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Separating Perennial Clumps

When you are separating a clump dividing it into pieces it is best to have the soil a little on the dry side not so much that the roots dry out a lot but the soil around them. Then when you go to separate them the soil crumbles off instead of breaking off in chunks.

By having the soil fall and not tear the roots are left more intact and there is by far less damage.

Q. I have a bed of pale pink cup-like flowers they grow about 18 inches tall but I have forgotten the name. Senior moment I guess. They are perennials.

A. I am sorry but I do not want to guess what they are called as there are so many possibilities and for me to tell you one for sure would be wrong. Take a couple flowers to your local nursery or garden center and ask an employee there who looks like he/she knows what is going on!

Q. The itty bitty perennials I planted in April 2001 are unbelievably enormous and crowding each other out. Will it harm anything if I "trim" the plants so they aren't crashing into each other?

A. The answer depends upon what the perennials are and if they have bloomed this season are in bud or will bloom later in the year. Obviously you do not want to disturb them if their flowers have yet to perform. By pruning now in July you would be removing all the tip buds which would produce flowers. You would still get the side flowers if you cut back only a few inches.

But since they are crowding one another it signals to me that you will need to do a more severe pruning. Now is not the time for that with the exception being those bushes whose flowers have come and gone and it will remain vegetative the rest of the season. You could prune these shrubs to give more sunlight and air to the ones which they are bordering.

Pruning perennials is best done after the buds have broken well into the spring or in the fall before frost. I recommend that you do not prune in early spring and no later than one month before your expected frost. The latter would encourage the shrubs to produce new vegetation which would be killed by a frost.

A way to avoid this problem in the future is to space out the plants very well when planting them. Allow for good growth and pruning will need be not so severe though some pruning is always necessary for shaping and controlling.

Q. What is meant by "clump forming" and "suckering" of perennials? Do these types of plants need to be staked?

A. The height of the plants in question will determine whether they need to be staked or not. It does not matter if it is one stalk alone or a clump of many. If they get top-heavy then to protect the plant it would need to be tied gently to a stake even several in a clump.

A clump is a group of stems coming up from usually one source though you can place plants together in a clump as tulips or daffodils which look good clustered together even though they are separate plants. Clumps give a garden bed a large group of a color and texture as opposed to one solitary plant here and another a ways away. It is an individual taste so plant them the way you prefer.

Suckering is similar but those are extra stems arising from the root ball of a single plant. The end effect is the same though as it becomes a clump of the same plant and color.

Keep in mind that when staking established plant stems to be careful how and where you pound the stake so as not to cause much root damage. When a stem is young and you feel it may need to be staked later as a young tomato plant then put the stake in as soon as you can off to the side to do the least harm.

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