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Published: Saturday, 10/1/2011

Always room for more shade lovers

BY KELLY HEIDBREDER
BLADE GARDEN COLUMNIST

In the warm days of fall, we continue to toil away in the garden, preparing for days ahead. If you have a shady garden, you might think those sun-loving perennials are the only ones that need more room. But the shady plants can use some attention too.

Strong and silent

You know I whine about being sunshine deprived in my yard. I really love my yard, but wouldn't mind a few more hours of rays. I can't get my daisies to last very long, but boy can I grow hosta. From itty bitty June, to the huge Blue Mammoth, these strong and silent types are the backbone of any shade garden.

Since their foliage gets our attention, you need to make sure they aren't overcrowding themselves. If you really can't tell where the center of the plant is, then it might be time to do some dividing. Usually they can stay in one spot for about five years before they need some room. The new shoots come from the center of the plant and when the root clump gets too big, the shoots come from all over the place. It doesn't hurt the root structure or the plant, but it cuts down on the size of the foliage and the overall look of the plant.

A spring attack

Spring is the easiest time to divide them, but they are hardy enough to thrive even after the roughest attack. In the spring, the leaves are just starting to emerge and they look like little arrows coming out of the ground. These little sprouts are called 'eyes' and each will produce a single set of hosta leaves.

Late summer and early fall is another great time to divide your hosta. Here's the way I like to do it. I like to dig out the entire clump. This gives me a chance to inspect the entire root system and cut out any damaged parts or any soft roots that might have a disease problem. If you see soft roots, your plant might be in a spot that is too wet. Be sure to clean your tools between cuts.

Once you have a healthy root ball, use a sharp knife or sharp spade to separate the eyes. Keep two to six eyes together for a nice looking clump. Once the clumps are separated, replant them in a fresh hole in another location amended with compost. Water them thoroughly until after the first frost.

Bleeding hearts

If you are lucky enough to have bleeding hearts in your yard, fall is the perfect time to share them with a friend. First thing you need to do before you dig them up is to water them thoroughly, then let that soak into the roots for a couple days.

I like to get the new spot ready even before I dig out the old plant. That way you will ensure its survival after the split. The new hole should be at least eight inches deep and have some fresh compost to blend with the existing soil.

Give it a trim

Cut your plant down to about six inches above the soil line before you start digging into the soil. This will help the roots focus on growing new roots and not feeding the foliage that will be wilting soon. Carefully dig around the roots at least six inches away from the base to spare them from excessive trauma.

Once you dig around the whole root system, you can push your spade underneath to pry it from the ground. You can cut the roots in sections about four inches in diameter and get a few more plants out of one large clump. And guess what? You have a perfect spot ready for that new rootball in your landscape. I'm leaving a spot open in my garden for one too.

Contact Kelly Heidbreder at getgrowing@gmail.com.



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