Free bulbs to plant or share

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For the past six months (at least!) We have maintained our gardens with care, planting and pruning, weeding and watering, ensuring that the needs of our precious plants are met. Now is the time to recuperate!

Late fall is a great time to divide perennials, from clumps like daylilies and hostas to the densely packed bulbs of Crocosmia and Crimson River Lily (a.k.a. Schizostylis or Hesperantha). In winter, plants, from bulbs to trees, are stimulated by hormones to make roots. These fall divisions will therefore offer you many spring gifts to plant or share.

Overcrowded bulb colonies are easily divided by removing the foliage, forcing the entire mass and separating the bulbs. Replant the smaller ones in clusters of 5-10, the larger ones in three and five, and reposition the extras to offer them. Remove foliage from overgrown perennials, scoop up as large a clod as possible, then shake off excess soil. How you divide a plant depends on how its roots are made. If the oldest roots of the older clumps are woody, throw them in the compost pile, keeping only the young roots attached to the crown buds or living stems. Separate the roots of tufted plants like hostas and daylilies, shaking them gently while pulling firmly on a crown (a section of the top growth with the root attached).

The bearded iris has tuberous roots like ginger; break them into pieces, each with a fan or two of (cut) foliage attached. Plants with fibrous root systems, like daisies, may need to be cut in half with a sharp knife. Plant divisions in refreshed soil with plenty of compost. Make sure the top half of the iris tubers are exposed (they prefer this), but place the others with stems above ground and roots below ground level.

Peonies are notoriously difficult to move or divide, but once asleep they will barely notice our interference. Cut the peony stems 2 inches above the ground, then carefully fork the roots (they can be extended). Using a very sharp knife, cut the woody root into pieces, each of which should have at least three “eyes” or stem buds. Transplant them into fresh soil, making sure the eyes are close to the surface (the main reason peonies don’t bloom is because they’re planted too deep). Cover them with about half an inch of loose, airy mulch and in the spring you will have many new plants. If you want to use them in various places, transplant the root cuttings, because peonies readily move from a pot into the ground, but only easily move from the ground in autumn and early winter. (Like I said, they’re tough!)

This is also an optimal time to make cuttings of shrubs and woody herbs, from lavender and rosemary to California lilac (Ceanothus) and clematis. Choose non-flowering side shoots that are firm but not brittle or limp and 4 to 6 inches long, preferably with some of the mother stem attached. Remove the leaves and immerse the stems 2-3 inches deep in pots of sandy soil and compost, then place the pots where it will rain all winter. When you prune the herbs, place some of the stronger spikes in a similar mixture and in the spring they will make small, plump plants. Hydrangeas are easy to root just by leaving a few stems in a bucket of water. As they take root, transplant them or put them back in a pot. To remind you of what color they are, wrap the top stems with blue tape marked with a waterproof pen. Forward!

Contact Ann Lovejoy at 413 Madrona Way NE, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110 or visit Ann’s blog at http://www.loghouseplants.com/blogs/greengardening/ and leave a question / comment.

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