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Growin’ Green

Don’t Overcrowd By Planting Too Close

By Brent Gray

Some tips for growing perennials: 1. Choose a location that suits the plant. If it needs full sun don’t think it will grow well in shade. If it likes a dry location, don’t think it will grow in an area that sometimes floods after a hard rain. Most perennials do require a well-drained soil. 2. Amend the soil if needed.  Add organic matter or slow- release fertilizers to improve the texture and nutrient levels of the soil. 3. Provide maintenance such as supplemental watering during times of drought and watch for insect and disease problems. Mulch, but keep the mulch away from the crown to prevent disease problems and rotting.  
Yes, all of the above are common sense, but one problem that plagues some enthusiastic gardeners is overcrowding due to planting too close or failure to divide when the plants become overcrowded. Over-crowding can lead to several problems—weak plants, less flowers, disease and insect problems and overall an unattractive and unproductive planting. Now, is the time to assess your perennial plantings and take action to nip overcrowding in the bud, so to speak!
To avoid interrupting flowering, dig up summer and fall-blooming perennials when the new growth is a few inches high—that is in the early spring.  Now is not the best time to dig up and divide the spring flowering plants such as peony and iris. Some fast-growing perennials need to be divided between one and three years after planting.  Some examples of these are: aster, astilbe, beebalm, boltonia, garden mum, garden phlox, rudbeckia, Shasta daisy. Divide ornamental perennial grasses before new growth emerges. Cut back the old clumps to within 4 to 6 inches of the ground and use a sharp shovel or in some cases an axe to slice or hack one or more wedges out of the crown.  Immediately plant them elsewhere.
I do not know a gardener who does not share plants and dividing perennials in the spring is a great way to spread the joy of gardening with friends and neighbors by giving them a clump of daylilies, beebalm or other nice plant. Who knows, you might get a wonderful plant in return to add to your perennial garden. Taking steps to prevent the “perennial” problem of overcrowding will help to ensure that your perennials will not only live, but thrive—and if you share, may gain you a gardening buddy in the process.  
Spring officially arrives March 20, but winter isn’t letting go. Many indicators of warm weather haven’t happened  and gardeners should be cautious about starting warm season vegetables. However, it can be time to plant if you have well drained soils with good sun exposure. Be sure any plant you are putting into the soil has been hardened off so the contact of cold soil with the root system is not too much of a shock.
Many cool season vegetables are starting rapid growth now. Look for pale lower leaves as  an indication of fertilizer deficiency. Don’t apply any additional fertilizer to crops you are going to harvest within the next week, but  you will get a response by plants that still have a longer time till harvest.
Keep harvesting cool season vegetables that show signs of bolting. Bolters have rapidly growing central stalks with small leaves attached. The central stalk will eventually produce  flowers. Once a plant begins the reproductive cycle, it will devote its energy to growing flowers, not leaves. You can leave the flowering plants in the garden as ornamental accents and bee food, but the  plant will not be edible.
Make sure the plants you buy are adapted to Mississippi. Ask the retailer if they have any evidence the fruit tree, berry plant or strawberry plant they are selling will perform in our hot, wet climate. You can get a list of recommended varieties from you local MSU Extension Service office before going out to buy.

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