, Salem, MA

November 9, 2012

Start planning spring transporting

North Shore Gardener Barbara Barger
The Salem News

---- — Q: I have many perennials in my garden that are spreading into each other. Is it too late to split them and replant in another area, or is it best to do that in the spring as soon as they start popping up? I would like to dig up the whole plant in some cases and replant in another area of my garden. I thought if I did it before the frost, they would have a better start next spring.

A: If you could forecast the weather, you could still plant, but it’s getting a bit late.

But wait — I’m sure you have other chores to do in the garden, and the spring transplants and divisions will do every bit as well, if not better, than fall transplants. One exception might be peonies, which seem to like a fall transplanting but then take several years to re-bloom.

So use this time to plan your transplanting for spring — and even mark places for the plants to go on next spring as soon as the ground thaws and is workable.

Have a nice weekend, and enjoy the leaf color right in your own neighborhood. The wild turkeys are back in my yard — they must know Thanksgiving is near, and they are seeking refuge!

Q: I bought mums for the planters in front of the house. Now can they go in the garden? They’re beginning to lose their leaves and color.

A: Yes — but plant soon! Make sure that the variety you chose is a perennial, or hardy type of, mum. The other type, called a “florist’s mum,” will probably not survive if planted outside. The types sold by garden centers are usually perennials and will survive outside. Mums are tender perennials — this means that they will not always survive the winter weather. But given a little protection, they will do rather well.

Dig a hole as deep as the container and twice as wide. It’s always best to amend your soil with compost peat moss and/or cow manure before you plant. Once the hole is dug, gently remove the plant from the container, score the roots with a knife and gently tease them so they’ll spread more easily. Then just place the plant in hole and backfill with the amended soil. Keep your mums well-watered through the first hard freeze. After that, add a thick layer of mulch to protect them through winter. For trimming back, there are a couple of schools of thought. In warmer climates, it’s fine to cut back. In colder climates, leave the dead stems; they work perfectly as a cage to catch leaves for winter protection. Stuff more leaves inside to add extra protection or mulch after the ground freezes.

In the spring, when the mums are about 4 to 6 inches tall, cut them back. Then continue pinching out the center of each stem through the middle of July. This will help make the plant bushier — it won’t fall over as easily, and there will be more blooms per flower head. Be sure to stop pinching by mid-July, or the plants will bloom too late for our frosty weather. Divide plants about every three years — in three years, a well-grown mum should double in size. If you follow these tips, you’ll end up with a big, beautiful mum for your minimal initial investment.

Q: I was hoping you could help me with my rosebush. I have sprayed the leaves, but they still were diseased and turning brown. So I cut the leaves off. But how far back on the main stem should I cut back? There are some new leaves coming.

A: I really can’t give you a complete answer — you mention no visible bugs nor any evidence of disease other than the dry leaves.

As it is late in the year, I would continuously wash the rosebush with a stream of water from the hose. Do it early in the day so it can dry thoroughly and not encourage mildews and other diseases.

Spray well every week this fall with a soap insecticide. Remove all dead leaves and any stems that appear dead (it is usually brown rather than green) and cut back beyond the last known healthy growth.

Clean out the rose bed thoroughly after a hard freeze. Remove all dead leaves and other matter, and treat this trash as diseased — do not compost it. Burn it or put it out with the trash instead.

By next spring, you should see improvement. If not, send us specific descriptions/photos of the problem so we can treat it properly.

Q: I would like to know why my nine hydrangea bushes have not bloomed this year with flowers? I have fed them all the nutrients that they should have, and I have watered them daily. They are growing tall with leaves but no blooms. I have also noticed that I am not alone — my neighbors are complaining about the same problem.

A: This past spring was not a good one for the hydrangeas. Many gardeners had the early buds damaged or frozen during brief cold nights.

Many found that the previous mild late fall had meant taking the opportunity to do a lot of garden chores late, in the moderate weather, and they over-pruned their hydrangeas.

Please don’t worry about the hydrangeas for next year’s bloom — if Mother Nature cooperates. The fact that they have grown green and leafy should mean lots of blooms next year — and even more the following year — and the plants sound very healthy.

Don’t prune at this time of year! Let them grow, and, as long as nature cooperates, they will develop buds on this past year’s growth for next year. A cover like a tent or wrap or a wire cage filled with leaves would protect them from severe weather.

Be careful about overuse of fertilizer. Too much can produce lots of green healthy leaves, but no flowers.

This week’s dirt

You’ll be planting your bulbs, and even if there is little rain, your bulbs will be safe and sound if you give them a thorough drink after you finish planting. Nature will take over from there. Continue spring planting bulbs until the ground freezes and you can plant no more.

For best impact and display, plant them in groups of at least three. Plant some early bloomers where only you can see them — near a kitchen or bedroom window or behind a garage, in a special place where you’ll be the first to see them and know that spring is near.


North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger of Beverly is a feature of Friday’s Lifestyles section. Reach Barbara by email at or write to her c/o The Salem News, 32 Dunham Road, Beverly, MA 01915. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at