Now’s the time to divide and conquer

Ornamental grass

Ornamental grass

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After the winter of 2012-13 (snow many feet deep as late as the end of March), this year has been relatively kind to the garden. So far.

The problem with this is that it encourages you to get out and do things which you wouldn’t normally do until well into March. Is patience a virtue, or should we strike while the iron’s hot (or the winter isn’t too cold)?

You can tell the impatient gardeners; as soon as the calendar ticks over to the new year, they want to pick up forks and spades and head outdoors to divide overgrown clumps of perennials (including grasses), to prune shrubs, to dig beds and borders; in fact, to get everything ready for the entrance of spring.

If the weather is kind, it’s something worth doing before the gardening season begins to accelerate and there are many more things demanding our time and attention.

So, it’s a cased of divide and conquer – give those summer-flowering perennials a good going-over before they start to grow again and they should, with luck, produce flowers this year.

The ones to choose are those whose centres appear devoid of growth while their edges are showing signs of fresh greenery. Get the fork, lift the targeted clump and then split it with the spade. As long as there’s a section of root still attached, it should be fine and you have doubled the number of plants without spending a penny.

Occasionally, it’s possible to get three, four or even more young, rooted plants from one parent. The drawback is that they will be smaller but given the right growing conditions, they’ll soon bulk up to eventually become parents themselves.

Give them a reasonable planting hole, enriched with organic matter, and water them in. If the weather stays dry, keep watering to encourage new root growth and fresh top growth.

And while you’re out and about among the perennials, this is the perfect time to support those tall-growing specimens which are likely to be flattened by high winds and heavy rain.

If you leave staking until the plants have started to grow, it becomes a bit of a battle, and there’s many a fresh, green shoot that’s been broken in the process of trying to help it. It’s the early bird – aka the impatient gardener – who gets the job done now.

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