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Project: Do the (Garden) Math

Gardening | Intermediate

Over time, plants in a garden drift. More aggressive plants overtake their shyer neighbors; shrubs overshadow smaller plants. Some plants may stop growing or blooming due to crowding, while others may be too dense. While a certain amount of plant drift may be welcome—after all, it’s your perennials’ way of letting you know where conditions are best for them—other drift may be unwelcome and require interference to keep your garden looking its best.

Fall is a good time to survey your landscape, see how your plants are doing and do some adding, subtracting and dividing.

Step 1: Plan Your Moves

Assess your plantings and note all changes you want to make. Draw a plan for additions and subtractions and mark plants you intend to move or remove.

These lilies aren’t getting enough sun or water under the pines. I’ll move them to the back of the wildflower garden.

I planted this inkberry here years ago and it just never thrived. The strawberries have claimed this spot and since they pay me back with strawberries, I’m giving them the rest of the bed. I am leaving the iris in the back because they add some much-needed height in front of the wall.

Step 2: Prepare the New Holes First

Once you have the plan, dig all of the new locations for plants you’re planning to move first. Use a floral or drain spade to dig a hole at least 1½ times the size of the root ball without disturbing the new neighbors. In crowded areas, use a hand transplanter to minimize damage to other plants. If your soil is heavy, as ours is here in Pennsylvania, throw a little peat moss or mulch into the bottom of the holes. Use a hand cultivator to loosen up the dirt and mix in the amendments.

Step 3: Subtract

Next, use a spade to remove or cut back plants you don’t plan to replace. Plants you no longer want can be placed in a box and given away or composted.

Step 4: Add and Divide the Keepers

Finally, use a spade to remove the plants you plan to transplant, being careful not to damage the roots. Use a narrow spade in tight places to minimize damage to neighboring plants. Smaller plants can be moved with a scoop, while larger ones may be transferred to a wheelbarrow with a bag or a bit of tarp.

Step 5: Plant and Mulch

Plant the keepers in their new locations, making sure to plant the crown of the plant, where the stems emerge from the roots, level with the surrounding soil surface. Tamp the dry soil lightly with your hand or a trowel, add a little extra soil, and tamp again. Water thoroughly. Don’t tamp any further once you’ve watered. A root stimulant may be added to the water to avoid transplant shock.

Doing the necessary garden math each fall will help your plants thrive and ensure that your shrinking violets aren’t overwhelmed by yard eaters like my spiderwort.

For this project, you’ll need: