Diggin' it: Work smarter, not harder

Without proper attention early in the growing season, this phlox had quite a leaning problem.

Grace Peterson
Without proper attention early in the growing season, this phlox had quite a leaning problem.

True confession: Last summer I was a somewhat lazy gardener.

Yes, I know you find this hard to believe considering that my desire to putter through the pathways is about tops on my favorite thing to do list. But it’s true. I neglected some of my gardening chores.

It was those fast-growing perennials that got ahead of me. Seemingly overnight, my phlox, asters and daisies went from short little bits of green to 4-foot-tall billowy masses. A little rain and wind and they were leaning, if not collapsing, all because I didn’t take care of them at the beginning of the season when they were short — like smart gardeners do.

The most common method for dealing with leaning plants is to provide support via the tie-up method. It’s quite simple. You put a stick in the ground, grab some string and tie the offending leaner to the stick and hope this set up is not too obtrusive. This is what I was forced to do, and it was quite obtrusive.

But there is a smarter method — pruning. Did you know that you can cut back perennials early in their growing cycle to make them grow strong and bushy? It means they won’t need support when the wind and rain come.

The timing for this is critical and why Tracy Di-Sabato-Aust’s book, “The Well-Tended Perennial Garden: The Essential Guide to Planting and Pruning Techniques,” is so valuable.

Last fall I got my hands on the latest edition of this handy reference and was happy to see that the author included several more perennials since the earlier edition.

The book still starts out with basic gardening information, perfect for the beginner, and then delves into the generalities of pruning perennials.

It then includes an encyclopedia of perennials detailing the method for pruning each specific perennial.

For example, I can turn to “phlox” to learn when best to prune them so they will grow bushy and yet still bloom. And you’re right if you assume I’ll be paying more attention this year. No more floppy phlox.

After the encyclopedia portion of the book is a quick reference list of perennials with specific maintenance needs, such as perennials that do not respond well to pinching (or pruning), perennials that will or won’t rebloom if deadheaded, perennials that will re-seed, and several more topics.

Finally, the book ends with timely seasonal to-do lists.

“The Well-Tended Perennial Garden” is published by Timber Press and you can find it at all the usual places.

If you’ll be buying plants this spring — as all self-respecting gardeners should be — I want to mention an extremely valuable online resource. Plantlust.com is a fantastic site developed by plant guru Megan Hansen in Portland. With its very detailed search engine, you can research different types of plants, read about their attributes, look at eye-candy photos and then buy them.

For example, if you want a spring-flowering vine, a dwarf conifer or a tree that has gorgeous fall color, or all three, you can search, read narrative from various contributing nurseries and make a purchase, all while saving money on shipping charges.

If you just need inspiration, this website has it. New plants and nurseries are being added all the time so it’s worth bookmarking and visiting often.

I will be posting spring photos of my garden on my blog. If you’re interested, visit me at gracepete.blog-spot.com, and leave a comment or question.

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