Friday, September 3, 2010

Fall is the Time to Divide Bleeding Hearts and Peonies in the Garden

Good gardening friend Paul Parent of the Paul Parent Garden Club ( sends out a great newsletter every week with pertinent gardening topics. I encourage you to go to his website to sign up for his newsletter. Paul can also be heard every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 10 AM at his website or at WBACH (104.7 FM) every Sunday morning from 6 AM to 9 AM. Paul recently sent this article out called Fall is the Time to Divide Bleeding Hearts and Peonies in the Garden (I occasionally add a few comments in italics) and here it is:

"Traditionally, the temperatures cool down now, rainfall increases, and so does the morning due on our garden plants. The garden soil is still warm and if you have energy left from this hot summer, let's begin to think about dividing our perennials.

Here are a few perennials that you can divide now and share or swap with friends and family. Most large nurseries that sell large potted perennials are doing this right now, while they have the time. Spring is just too busy for them and potting perennials now will give them bigger and stronger plants in the spring.

Divided plants get a chance to make big roots before winter arrives and in your garden the plants will be ready when spring arrives next year. All you will need is compost or animal manure, Soil Moist to help hold moisture around the new roots and a fertilizer like Bio-Tone or Plant Thrive that contains mycorrhizae.

Bleeding heart, a wonderful spring-flowering perennial, has to be divided now! Because the plant develops and flowers early in your garden, you will forget to do it then. By now the foliage is turning yellow and beginning to fall apart. Cut all the foliage to the ground and put it in your compost pile.

Carefully dig around the plant with pitchfork or shovel to loosen the soil and pull the roots out of the ground. Shake some of the soil off the roots so you can examine the plant better. You will notice that the plant has developed several buds underground and just above the roots. If you want a nice plant that will flower for you in the spring divide the roots and bud clusters into sections that contain 3 to 5 buds! Pull apart or cut with clean sharp knife.

I always dust the area where the plant came apart with rose or garden dust to prevent insects or disease on the exposed area. Condition the plants' new home with suggested products (we love Shrub and Tree Mix by Jolly Gardener or Penobscot Blend by Coast of Maine!) and set plants at same depth they were before you pulled them out of the ground, then water well. Water the plants 2 times a week until Columbus Day and place compost 2 inches deep over plants to help protect plants during the winter. (Set this mulch or compost over the plants when the ground freezes up--typically in mid to late November).

Bleeding heart plants do best when planted in a shady garden, but will also tolerate morning sunshine. Soils should be well drained and be free of clay soils. Bleeding hearts will flower by Mother's Day and make a wonderful gift for Mom.

Peonies, a classic garden perennial, also need to be dividend now, because the plants grow so quickly and the flowers that develop are so fragile in the spring. Just like the bleeding heart, cut back to the ground and dig up so you can clearly see the roots.

Peonies will have large thick roots that will grow deep into the ground and will be more work to divide. Shake off the soil and you will see, on the top of these woody roots, 1/2 inch hard, pointed buds that are brown in color. As you would for the bleeding heart, cut roots carefully so each piece has 3 to 5 buds on each piece you make. This 3 to 5 bud count will almost guarantee you flowers in the spring.

Now, the most important thing to remember after conditioning the soil is to make sure the roots are planted very shallowly into the ground. The top of the bud should be no deeper than one knuckle of your finger below the surface of the soil. When planted too deep the plant will not flower!

Peonies do best in a sunny location but will also do well with a bit of shade in the morning. The flower of the peony is very large and plants will do best in sheltered areas, away from wind. Try to place peony cages around plants in April to help hold the many large flowers the plants will make if you get heavy rains. (Great advice!)

Divide the peony plants every 4 to 5 years to control size, but dividing is not necessary to keep the plants happy--they can go untouched for 10 years or more. Non-flowering plants are your signal to divide them and raise them closer to the surface of the soil. Enjoy!"

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