Divide and Conquer

I don’t know about you but spring is starting to feel like a “no show” season to me. Honestly, I know it’s really here by the growing and grass and trees that now have their leaves but you wouldn’t tell the time of year by our outdoor thermometer. Last night there were frost warnings in our part of Texas – sheesh!

Despite the discouraging temperatures, it’s time for all of us to begin spring transplanting. There are two principal reasons for transplanting. One is that you’ve got something planted in the wrong place. Maybe it was put too near the sidewalk and is crowding your walking space. Or perhaps it is getting too much or too little sun. If so, time to move it.

The other main reason to transplant perennials is to divide and rejuvenate them. Most perennial herbs benefit from replanting about once every three years. By that time, they’ve expanded enough to merit dividing so you can put new plants elsewhere. Some herbs that grow in a patch (oregano or garlic chives, for example) will eventually die out in the center, leaving a ring of newer plants. Digging that up gets rid of the dead zone and allows you to reposition the plant to your liking. So whether you moving to correct a bad location or dividing to extend the life of your herbs here are the basic steps:

Always transplant “wet to wet.” Make sure every place you will be digging, both “from” and “to,” is moist to reduce shock to the roots. Take time to water both locations the day before. If the soil is soggy from heavy rains, give it a few days to dry out.

Just before you dig, clip off excess foliage, spent flowers, or rogue branches. This minimizes the amount of water the disturbed roots need to supply the plant.

Begin by digging straight down around the plant’s edge, about as far out from the center as the branches are. Then thrust the shovel into the dirt at an angle to dislodge the root ball.  If you are dividing it, use a sharp knife or garden saw to separate sections. Remove any dead clumps or damaged roots.

At the destination, dig a hole larger than the root ball. The rule of thumb is “dig a five dollar hole for a fifty cent plant.” Remove any rocks or other obstructions. Fragments of children’s toys or chunks of wood from last summer’s deck project make poor soil amendments. Add slow release organic fertilizer to the bottom of the hole.

Plant your herb so the base is slightly higher than ground level.  The soil in the hole will compact over time. This is also a golden opportunity to rotate the plant so it will grow upright and not lean awkwardly. Return the remaining soil to the hole, breaking up any large clods as you go.

For the final step, lightly tamp the soil and water your plant. This eliminates air pockets and settles the soil. Add mulch and you’re all done!



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