In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
July, 2010
Regional Report

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Although a riot of color, the plants in this overgrown bed are competing for moisture and nutrients. I'll remove the plants, amend the soil, and replant so each has plenty of elbow room.

A Hoarder at Heart

I've already admitted that I'm an incurable plant collector; I also have a "no bare earth" policy in my garden. These traits have gotten me into trouble more times than I can count. Just when I think I can't possibly squeeze another plant into a flower bed, I manage to find space for the latest and greatest annual or perennial that catches my eye. It only takes a year or two and my once well-designed perennial bed is in need of a major overhaul - again.

When to Overhaul
Even though I know the cooler soil and air temperatures of spring and fall provide the best conditions for digging and transplanting perennials, I generally choose early summer to dig and divide because my energy and enthusiasm are highest then. As long as the plants are well watered after replanting, they don't seem to suffer too much stress from my off-season digging and dividing.

Empty the Bed
The first step in renovation is to empty the bed of plants. I water well the day before because I find it easier to dig in moist soil. I've also found that plant roots tend to stay in a compact mass when the soil is moist, which makes them easier to handle. Using a spade, I cut a circle around the crown of each plant, and pry the roots up with a garden fork. As I remove plants, I set them on a tarp spread out in a shady spot and sprinkle them lightly with water to keep the roots from drying out.

Amend the Soil
Once all the plants are removed, I rejuvenate the soil by digging in organic matter. I spread a 4- to 5-inch layer of compost over the soil surface, sprinkle 1 cup of granular 10-20-20 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed, and then mix it thoroughly with the native soil. I try to dig the organic matter in at least 12 inches deep. Finally, I rake the soil smooth, stepping as lightly as possible to avoid compacting the soil.

Divide and Transplant
Not all plants need dividing, but renovating a bed is a great opportunity to increase your stock of favorite plants or to have some to give away. Dividing plants not only produces new babies, it also keeps plants growing vigorously. After digging the plant, I tug the roots apart with my hands, cut with a knife, or chop away with a spade or axe, depending on the density of the root mass. Woody root masses are the biggest challenge, but they all come apart eventually if you're persistent. Once separated, each little plant is placed in the bed or potted up to give away.

Mulch and Water
The final step in renovation is to top the bed with a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch. You can use shredded leaves, aged compost or finely chopped bark to help suppress weeds and slow evaporation of soil moisture. Once the mulch is in place, it's important to water thoroughly. I use a watering wand to provide a gentle shower, sweeping it back and forth until I'm sure the soil is saturated.

When all this is done, it's time to sit back and relax. Plants will begin to recover and produce new growth in just a few weeks.


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