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By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

Besides trees and shrubs, plants can be divided into three types- annuals, biennials and perennials. Annuals grow from seed to flowering size and then die in the course of one year. Annuals are important for keeping our yards colorful throughout the summer or winter months. Marigolds, Zinnias, and Pansies are well known annuals. Biennials, such as foxglove and hollyhocks, usually take two years to complete their lifecycle. They grow the green leafy portion in the first year, and flower in the second.

Perennials can be divided into two camps. Short-lived perennials last for about four years, but can be kept longer by dividing them every year. Long-lived perennials can sometimes outlive the gardener that planted them. While technically trees and shrubs are perennials, the perennials we are discussing are called herbaceous. Herbaceous means the plants have soft, non-woody stems. There growth above ground dies out each winter, while the roots remain alive to send up new growth each spring. Here in the foothills our winters are mild enough that sometimes the growth does not disappear completely.

The reason that fall means perennials is that now is the time to plant, as well as divide these plants. Now that the weather has cooled is when the least amount of stress is put on these plants as you dig them from the ground or pull them out of their containers to plant in the ground. The soil is warm from a long summer and this will encourage root growth for the next month or so. You may not get lots of top growth now, but the larger root system of fall planted perennials will mean rapid, lush growth come next spring.

Most all perennials can be divided but a few should be left alone. Monkshood (Aconitum), most euphorbias, gypsophila, Christmas-rose (Helleborus), and oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) should never need to be divided. Generally if a plant is flowering and growing well division is not necessary. Sooner or later your perennial may stop flowering well, or out grow the area they inhabit. This is when you should divide.

Perennials that make strong, dense clumps can be divided by lifting the clump from the ground with a shovel or digging fork. Cut into the clump with the shovel or use to digging forks back to back in the center of the clump and pry them apart. If the foliage has died you can cut it back making it easier to reach the roots. If the plant has woody roots you may have to dig the clump from the ground and using a sharp knife sever it into sections, each with some roots and a growing bud or shoot. Plant these sections as you would perennials brought home from the garden center in cans. Dig the hole three times the width of the root mass, but only as deep. Mix organic matter with the soil, such as fir mulch, planting mix, or compost. Add a pre-plant fertilizer like Master Start. Don’t bury the plant any deeper than it grew in the ground or can. Water well after planting and until the rains arrive.

Yarrow, anemone, agapanthus, campanula, chrysanthemum, coreopsis, gaura, daylilies, iris, shasta daisy, veronica, salvia, and rudbeckia, are just some of the perennials that can be planted or divided now through late fall.

Try to finish before the ground gets cold and the wonderful benefits of fall planting diminish. Come spring you will be amazed at how quickly the plants grow and flower compared to one planted in spring.

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