Sunday, May 26, 2019

Moving & Dividing Perennials, Part 1

When it comes to moving or dividing perennials, there is a general rule of thumb that is expressed in opposites: 

If the perennial blooms in early spring, move or divide them in late summer/early fall. This gives the plant time to recover before it blooms the following spring.

If the plant flowers in summer/early fall, move or divide them early in the spring. This allows the perennial the spring and summer months to get reestablished before their normal autumn bloom time. 

These are both good all-purpose guidelines. It makes sense not to move anything that is about to flower or is flowering. Though plants are amazingly resilient, it is asking a lot to uproot a plant and expect it to recover while putting on a show of blooms.

Sure Signs that you Need to Move or Divide a Plant

A plant will always give you hints it needs attention. It blooms poorly or looks straggly. When faced with disappointing results, a gardener needs to call upon their sleuthing skills. If there is no pest or disease issue, it could be inappropriate soil or moisture conditions. It could also be a simple indication of the lack of proper light. If you suspect any of the plant's growing conditions might be the concern, it can't but help but improve things to move the unhappy perennial to a more appropriate spot.

After an initial spring cleanup, it became all too apparent that this Miscanthus should have been divided sometime ago. Perennials grow outward. The old core has died leaving a ring of new growth.

A bare patch surrounded by a ring of fresh growth is a sure sign that a perennial needs division. Cutting a big clump into smaller pieces always feels a bit brutal, but the rewards are great. Dividing mature perennials always encourages fresh new growth.

Not all perennials are created equal. Some plants are just more vigorous than others. In this situation, a gardener plays a role in maintaining an even balance. Cutting back a more dominant plant can give a less vigorous plant a chance. When you have a big garden, keeping on top of things can be a challenge. Sometimes it is better to move a perennial that is being crowded by other more vigorous plants.

Moving Plants in the Spring

As well as moving spring-flowering perennials in the fall, you can often move or divide them right after they finish blooming. But if you find yourself really busy and there is a time delay that ushers in hot weather, hold off until the fall.

Of course, this is real life, where not everything goes to plan. Sometimes you'll find yourself having to move a plant at a less than ideal time. This is exactly the position I found myself in this spring. I am reducing the size of the front garden and all the perennials had been moved except one ancient Baptisia. Ideally, I should have waited until after it had flowered to move it, but the rest of the area was ready for grass seed. I didn't want weeds to move in before the grass had a chance to get established. So I bit the bullet, and moved the Baptisia, knowing I might be sacrificing the usual display of spring flowers.

How early is too early?

I usually wait for the ground to warm and plants to shows signs they have begun to break their winter dormancy before I do any moving or dividing. That being said, I like to make this one of my first tasks of the gardening season. The days warm up quickly and the heat of the sun adds to the stress a plant experiences when disturbed.

The moment fresh growth peaks up out of the warming ground, I begin to shift plants around. Just be careful. Plants that flower late in the summer or fall are often slow to emerge in the spring. If you're not mindful, you can think an open area is empty when it's not.

I move plants around unapologetically. Everyone makes mistakes. Often I plant things too close together or in a spot that, I soon come to realize, doesn't suit them at all. Sometimes foliage or flower colors clash. Most often, I find myself shifting plants around to improve my companion planting. An isolated plant in flower always looks better when placed in the company of blooming friends.

Take a few notes or pictures in the fall for the following spring.

Fall tends to be a hectic season, but if you can get yourself organized, take a few pictures and even make notes. Spring is months in the future. Without notes or the visual reference of a photograph, it's much harder to remember everything that will need to be done in the new year.

One Clever Trick for Moving Herbaceous Perennials in the Spring

When plants first emerge, they are small and low to the ground. If you've cut them back to the ground in the fall, there isn't really any indication of how wide they spread or how tall they grow. Gauging their full summer size is either a guessing game or a feat of a good memory. The more plants you move at one time, the more complicated predicting size and spacing can seem. Most gardeners (myself included) tend to underestimate the space a plant requires.

How big and wide will the Sedum on the left grow? On the right, the old-growth (brown) answers the question for me. Use this old growth to help you judge your spacing when you move a perennial. 

So, here's a little trick I've learned over the years. If you know you are going to want to move a plant in the spring, don't cut it back in the fall. Allow the old growth to remain over the winter. In the spring, the old skeleton will be a perfect indication of how tall and wide the plant is likely to grow. Once you've moved the perennial to its new spot, trim away last year's growth.

One very large root ball. I had to have my husband help lift it onto the paper!

The divisions just before they were planted.

One of the 4+ divisions of the hosta newly planted. No wilting occurred. A day of rain really 
helped with the speedy recovery.

Timing is Everything

Spring weather has the double blessing of cool temperatures and lots of rain. Both make it easier for the recovery of a plant that has been moved or divided. Fall offers cool weather, but it tends to be a drier season (here in Toronto at any rate). 

No matter which season you choose, your timing has the potential to give a plant an extra leg up. The sun can give an uprooted plant a real beating. I always try to move or divide plants on a cloudy day. 

Even better, I move or divide plants early in the evening just before a day of rain. That extra water and a break from the sun can do wonders!

Always water a plant thoroughly after you move or divide it. Until it shows signs of recovery continue to water it especially if the weather is dry.

Watch out for Hitchhikers!

The last thing you want to do is move a problem from one area to another.

This year I had to move a few hostas that were in shade but are now in the sun (after the death of a tree). To complicate things, some Goldenrod managed to infiltrate the areas where the hostas were growing. I certainly didn't want to move the Goldenrod when I moved the hostas.

To avoid an issue, I gently knock the dirt from the hosta's root ball. If I am really concerned, I might even wash the roots off with the hose. Next, I do a visual inspection looking for errant passengers (Goldenrod has bigger, more coarse roots). If I find a suspicious root, I will give it a little tug. Roots that aren't attached to the hosta will usually pull free.

It's hard to show but, in the picture above, orange daylilies have infiltrated a clump of hosta. The only way to separate the two plants is to dig up the clump of hosta. Then you need to clear enough dirt from the roots to see what's going on. Once you identify the two types of roots, you can carefully separate the two plants.

Just do your best!

Plants have a strong will to survive! Last week I moved some self-seeded Bleeding Hearts (they were too crowded and in the wrong spot). I was able to lift most of them successfully, but the tail end of the roots snapped off a couple of them. I planted them anyway. Initially, they slumped, but after two days of rain, they seem to have recovered nicely from their ordeal.

More to come in Part 2.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

A Sneak Preview of the Canadian Cancer Society's Spring Garden Tour

It's one thing to see a perennial in a pot at the nursery and try and imagine what that plant would look like in the landscape, it's quite another to see that same perennial planted in a proper garden.

It's so much easier to appreciate a plant's color, size and shape when you see it in a garden. And because you've seen it in context with other companion plants, you get a clearer idea of where you might place it in your own garden.

The delicate flowers of Mukdenia rossii are attractive, but the foliage, which takes on reddish tones, is one the main reasons you may want to add this perennial to your collection.

There is a perennial that I've had my eye on for a couple of years but never purchased. Every spring there is a long list of perennials on my wishlist and I never had the opportunity to see this particular plant in a garden, so I lacked that final bit of motivation to move it to the top of my list.

Mukdenia rossii has delicate, starry white flowers in April or May. As the foliage ages, reddish tones creep inward from the edges of the leaves. This plant prefers rich, evenly moist, well-drained soil. Full sun to part-shade. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), Spread: 45-60 cm (18-23 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Early in the week, I had the pleasure of visiting the garden of Larraine Alderson and there it finally was! How nice it looked amongst the other shade lovers Larraine had planted in her backyard. It took me no more than a couple of minutes to decide to finally make the decision to purchase a plant the next time I was at my favourite local nursery.

 Among the many foliage plants are a number of Heuchera.

 A few of the many great textural moments.

Larraine's garden is over thirty years in the making. Before it evolved into a quiet city subdivision the area was once an orchard. One of the original apple trees, now almost one hundred years old, still graces a corner of Larraine's backyard.

When the Alderson's bought the property there was a narrow garden that ran along the front of the house and not much else. Over the years, as a career and raising children allowed, Larraine began to expand the garden beds. She bought a Japanese Maple, long before they were fashionable, and planted it at the front of the house. Texture and color were important to her, so perennials and shrubs were added with attractive foliage and flowers. Today the front garden stretches down the length of the driveway and curves away from the house into the lawn.

The layout is one of the many pieces of inspiration you might take away 
from Larraine's garden.

 Trilliums and some striking variegated Bearded Iris (the flowers will be a soft, lavender-blue).

 Birds and some Mallard ducks paying a visit.

The ancient apple tree that was once part of a farm's orchard.

The front yard is full sun, but the back garden is quite shaded. Grass paths lead in and around the plantings taking you on a big loop back to the covered deck.

This coming weekend, Larraine's home is one of eight gardens in the Canadian Cancer Society's Annual Garden Tour. If your local and can attend, it's a great way to support a worthy cause while touring some beautiful properties.

If sadly you are at a distance, I'd encourage you to search out similar garden tours in your area. Visiting other gardens is one of the best ways to get inspired and gather ideas this spring!

The 14th Annual Spring Garden Tour in support of the Canadian Cancer Society will take place on Sunday, May 26th, 2019, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m (rain or shine).  This self-guided tour will highlight 8 gardens in the areas of Applewood Heights and Orchard Heights in Mississauga. 

Included in this year's event is the garden of Liz Primeau, former editor of Canadian Gardening magazine and author of 2 books: Front Yard Gardens: Growing More than Grass and In the Pursuit of Garlic: An Intimate Look at the Divinely Odorous Bulb. Among the featured properties is also the garden of Douglas Markoff, ExecutiveDirector of the Riverwood Conservancy, a 60-hectare nature preserve and public garden on the East Bank of the Credit River. 

Online tickets are available up until the day before the tour or until tickets sell out. Tickets will be sold for $25 on the day of the event at Battaglia's Marketplace and Applewood Home Hardware, subject to availability. 

All proceeds will go to the Canadian Cancer Society.

For more information visit

Saturday, May 18, 2019

New Annuals and Shrubs for 2019 from Proven Winners

A couple of weeks ago I made a visit to one of my favourite nurseries only to discover that they are closing their retail operation in the fall. I am really going to miss Humber Nursery! For years, Humber has been a botanical reference library for me. For instance, if I wanted to write a blog post on Phlox paniculata, I knew I could go there and find almost twenty different types of phlox to show you. Yes, they had the new, early blooming introductions from Proven Winners, but they also had many of the old-fashioned varieties that I absolutely love. Where will I find these old favourites now? Most of the other nurseries in my area focus almost entirely on what's "new".

I have always had mixed feelings about new plant introductions. The problem is that new is not necessarily always better. Sometimes it's just "new". With the constant roll-out of new plants vying for space on nursery benches, they also have a here-today-gone-tomorrow quality. And these new introductions often come with a hefty price tag!

That being said, it's still fun to discover a new plant that has improved characteristics like bigger flowers or more compact size. Here are a few of the annuals and shrubs from Proven Winners for 2019 that caught my eye:

I was quite taken with the pretty pink Superbells® Doublette Love Swept that garden writer David Hobson had grown in a pot. I see from their website that Proven Winners also has a lemon-yellow Superbells® Double Chiffon.

Superbells® Doublette Love Swept has double petunia-like flowers that are pink with a white rim. A light pruning early in the season and mid-summer will encourage branching and new growth. No deadheading needed. This plant cascades nicely and does not like constantly damp soil, making it ideal for containers. Full sun to light shade. Height: 15-25 cm (6-10 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches). 

Superbells® Doublette Chiffon has double petunia-like flowers that are soft yellow. Full sun to light shade. Height: 15-25 cm (6-12 inches), Spread: 30-60 cm (12-24 inches). 

Superbells® Doublette Love Swept in David Hobson's garden.

One of my favourite annuals last summer was a type of Coleus. With its velvety, red foliage and tall, striking size Coleus 'Campfire' looked just stunning in a large pot at the front of our house. Not surprisingly then, I was on the lookout for other new introductions. 

I like to buy small plants and grow them on for fall container plantings.

This arrangement shows Coleus, ColorBlaze 'Rediculous' in combination with a number of container plantings. I like that each pot has one type of plant. 1 & 5 Potato Vine, 'Sweet Caroline Bewitched After Midnight', Calibrachoa, 2. Supertunia 'Hot Pink Charm', 3. Colorblaze 'Rediculous'. 4. Verbena, Superbena 'Sparkling Ruby ' 6. Superbells 'Rising Star' 

Coleus, ColorBlaze 'Rediculous' has velvety-red foliage on well-branched plants. It's happy in sun or shade and is heat and drought tolerant. Height: 24-40 inches, Spread: 18-36 inches.

Coleus, ColorBlaze 'Chocolate Drop' Double Impatiens, 'Rockapulco Coral Reef' and
Sedum 'Lemon Coral'

What I really like about this next Coleus is its trailing habit. I have had a similar cultivar in the plant stand on my front porch and it looked terrific all summer long. While the information on the Proven Winners website suggests it is as "drought tolerant" as Coleus go, but I find that any Coleus still needs a regular source of water.

Coleus, ColorBlaze 'Chocolate Drop' has a trailing habit that works well in containers. It blooms late in the season or not at all. To keep foliage in top shape, pinch off any blooms as they appear. 'Chocolate Drop' is heat and drought tolerant. Sun or shade. Height: 14-20 inches, Spread: 12-18 inches.

The tiny flowers of annual Euphorbias may seem to lack a certain wow-factor, but I find they add such a nice soft touch to my containers. With summers getting hotter and drier, I really appreciate their heat and drought tolerance.

Diamond Mountain® Euphorbia produces clouds of airy-white flowers all summer long. It is a larger plant than Diamond Frost® making it perfect to pair with vigorous plants or to use in the landscape. No deadheading necessary. Like all Euphorbias, this plant produces a milky-white sap if cut or wounded that can cause some irritation to people with very sensitive skin. Part sun to sun. Height: 24-36 inches, Spread: 24-36 inches.

On to a couple of new shrubs. I am a sucker for any kind of lilac. Laura of Garden Answer showed the Scentara® Double Blue Lilac in one of her spring garden tours and gosh did it ever look pretty! The double flowers are extra fragrant as well.

Scentara® Double Blue Lilac has fragrant purple flowers that take on a blue tone in the spring sunshine. Lilacs are easy to care for provided they have full sun and well-drained soil. They bloom on old wood so prune them in the late spring after they finish flowering. This very heavy bloomer exhibits excellent disease resistance. Height: 6 ft-8ft, Spread: 6-8ft. USDA zones: 2-8.

With its interesting variegation, Sugar Tip®Gold Rose of Sharon also caught my attention. These keep the plant colorful and interesting in spring, then come summer, the playful foliage is accompanied by doubled purple flowers. For those of you who think that Rose of Sharon can be a nuisance self-seeder, this plant creates far fewer seed than conventional varieties. 

Sugar Tip®Gold rose of Sharon has double purple flowers and green foliage edged with creamy-yellow. Height: 1.2-1.5 meters (48-60 inches), Spread: 1.2-1.5 meters (48-60 inches). USDA zones: 2-8.

That's it for today. While I will continue to highlight new plants, I really want to make an effort to champion older plant varieties and native plants. With the closing of Humber Nursery's retail operation, it is going to be much harder to find these types of plants here in the Toronto area. Perhaps you are experiencing a similar situation where you live.  It feels like too much emphasis is put on "new" and I'm troubled by the lack of options.

Disclaimer: This is not a sponsored blog post. I'm simply highlighting a few of the new introductions 
that happened to catch my eye.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

The Garden of Author & Humorist David Hobson, Part 2

In this, the second post on David Hobson's garden, I'd like to focus in on the design and layout and highlight a few more of the standout plants. 

For any readers who missed Part 1, David Hobson is an author and newspaper columnist who gardens in Waterloo, Ontario. The home he shares with his lovely wife sits on an average-sized suburban lot, but there are so many distinct areas of visual interest that the limitations of its boundaries aren't the thing that you notice. As with any well-designed outdoor space, the garden reveals itself slowly with one discovery after another. A brick path, that starts at the side gate, branches in several directions at the back of the house. Follow the main path down one side of the yard and you might find yourself in the vegetable garden at the very back of the property. Turn down a short offshoot and you'll find yourself standing on a small lawn surrounded by flowerbeds on all sides. Cross the grass and another branch of the pathway takes you to a patio area, the deck and small pond. It's a great example of how clever design can influence the way you experience a garden. 

In so many of the backyards I visit, the garden skirts the perimeter of the property and the lawn is the empty void in the centre. This approach always feels a bit forced and unnatural. In David's garden, the flowerbeds not only skirt the perimeter of the backyard, but they also curve into the central core of this outdoor space. The lawn is no longer an isolated monoculture. It feels integrated into the overall layout of the garden.

When it came to creating his garden, David was quite resourceful.

"It evolved in general with some planning of the elements. It's a bit of a budget three-R garden –as materials became available, I incorporated them, such as using old barn-board for the fence and a chance opportunity to reclaim bricks for the patios. I used scavenged rocks wherever I found them. The first liner for the pond was a piece of a terrible aqua blue swimming pool liner. Everything else I built," he says.

Occasionally David will use potted plants to fill the empty spaces left by early bloomers, but often container plantings end up in the garden simply because he has potted up too many plants.

Tenets of traditional garden design recommend groupings of three to five perennials for maximum visual impact. That may be all well and good if you have an English manor house and acres of land. On the other hand, if you are a plant collector like David, with a typical suburban lot, you have to rethink such old-fashioned principals.

In David's modest backyard, there just isn't room for multiples. Most of the time, he's lucky to find room for just one of everything. You might think that mixing a wide range of individual plants would have the potential to make the garden seem a bit disjointed and higgledy-piggledy. In actuality, David's one-of-a-kind approach works quite nicely.  Repeated colors, shapes and textures help the whole garden hang together very nicely.

A nodding Allium (sorry, not sure of the specific type).

Staghorn Sumac, Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger' Tiger Eyes is a dwarf Sumac cultivar. Staghorn Sumacs are named for the reddish-brown hairs that cover their young branches much like the velvet that covers the antlers of a male deer. The great thing about this Sumac is there is minimal suckering (unlike the species Rhus typhina). This shrub can be grown in well-drained, average garden soil. Long, odd-pinnate leaves are bright yellow-green when they emerge and turn shades of yellow, orange and red in the fall. Female flowers produce showy pyramidal fruiting clusters that become bright red in the fall. Full sun or light shade. Height: 3-6ft, Spread: 3-6ft. USDA zones: 4-8.


Reference to a similar Globe Thistle:
Globe Thistle, Echinops ritro 'Vietch's Blue' is a well-behaved garden perennial that has grey-green foliage and round, steel-blue flowers. Bees love this flower in mid-to-late summer. Full sun. Height: 90-100 cm (35-39 inches), spread: 60-75 cm (23-29 inches). USDA zones: 2-9.


An evergreen hedge separates the prettier parts of the garden from the more practical area used for growing vegetables. If you walk through the arbour (see above) you'll find a modest greenhouse, tomatoes and a wide range of other edibles.

The yellow Yarrow. A similar phlox might be 'Laura' or 'Purple Flame'

"I've had this common yellow yarrow–say that ten times quickly– so long I'm beginning to think I planted it in a previous life", David jokes. "There are numerous colors of yarrow available in all sizes and they are one of the easiest perennials to grow. Yarrow requires full to part sun, good drainage and little to no fertilizer. Once established they are drought tolerant," says David.

Sempervivum requires very little soil so they are quite at home on this hypertufa "straw" hat.

One of the most whimsical of odd-ball container plantings in David's garden are these straw hats. They are made using hypertufa (a mixture of peat moss, perlite (or vermiculite) and Portland cement).

"The thing to remember here is you have to have plants that survive without much moisture. Hens and chicks, little sedums; they do fine," says David.

Watch a video about David's unique container plantings.

To make this obelisk David repurposed the boom from an old teak windsurfer. 
The metal rings are barrel hoops. 

"I knocked this together from old barrel hoops. the beauty of an obelisk is it can be out in the open and you can view the plants from all sides," says David.

Spike Speedwell, Veronica 'Red Fox' has magenta flower spikes in summer. Removing faded flowers will encourage a longer bloom time. Powdery mildew can be an issue if the plant is stressed by drought. Average garden soil. Full sun. Height: 30-40 cm (12-16 inches), spread: 30-35 cm (12-14 inches). USDA zones: 4-8.

"Veronica are neat and tidy plants that are beautiful in or out of flower. They are carefree and easy-to-grow perennials preferring mainly full sun. Butterflies and hummingbirds love them too. They are commonly known as Speedwell," David advises.

Weigela 'My Monet' is a dwarf shrub that has green and white foliage which changes according to light exposure. To encourage a pinkish tinge to the foliage, plant this shrub it in full sun. 'My Monet' prefers well-drained soil but is adaptable to a variety of soils. Average moisture conditions. Slow growth rate. Height: 30-45 cm (12-18 inches), spread: 45-60 cm (18-24 inches). USDA zones: 4-9.

Lilies of all types are great to have in the garden for mid-summer color.

In the distance, an Amur Maple, that can reach a height of 18 ft and spread of 10 ft, 
creates a shady corner.

Curiosity draws author and humorist David Hobson out into his garden. 

"What I really enjoy is going out into my garden each day and discovering something new. It might be a new plant coming into bloom; it could be an insect, or it might be a bird," he says.

Ligularia and an Astrantia

This original take on a "boxwood ball" os mone of the garden's many novelties. To make it, David placed a pot of annual flowers in a hollowed out depression at the top of the clipped box.  

One of the nicest spots to sit and relax is right at the back of the house. There is the pleasant sound of water and the dark reflective surface of the pond. 

The thick carpet of chartreuse moss and the firey-red color of the Red Fountain Grass are a stunning example of how to use texture and color in a garden. 

Scotch Moss, Sagina subulata 'Aurea' has chartreuse to yellow moss-like foliage and tiny white flowers in the spring. Tolerates moderate foot traffic and is often used among flagstones in pathways. Scotch moss requires well-drained moist soil and may require regular watering. Full to part-sun. Height: 1 inch. USDA zones: 4-8.

Red Fountain Grass, Pennisetum on a carpet of Scotch Moss, Sagina subulata 'Aurea'.

Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata is native to most of the U.S. and Eastern Canada. Though it is found in swamps and wet meadows, is adaptable to average, well-drained garden soil. This plant has a tall, slender, vase-like shape and pinkish-magenta flowers that have a faint vanilla fragrance. The one thing this plant does not like is over-fertilization which can inhibit flowering. Swamp milkweed is easily grown from seed. Once mature, it has a deep taproot that makes it difficult to move. Swamp milkweed does have one drawback. It can be a rather prolific self-seeder. It likes full sun, but I have also grown it in light shade.  Height: 4-6 ft, Spread: 2-3 ft. USDA zones: 3-9.

Blood Grass, Imperata cylindrica 

I am going to end with another of David's videos–this one about long-blooming perennials. Enjoy!