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Autumn Gardening:
Planting and Growing Perennials

When we think about gardening in the fall, we usually don’t think about planting. But it’s a great time to add new trees to your garden, as our expert Ben McCallister from Purdue University suggested in our last article. However, it’s not just trees you can plant during this season. As the weather gets cooler, perennial plants are getting ready for a long winter nap, and they’re moving their nutrients down into their roots to stay alive. This is true for all kinds of perennials, whether woody or herbaceous (the ones that die back to the ground each year). So, this is an excellent time to get new perennials for your garden. But don’t forget about the ones you already have!

Choosing the Right Plants in the Fall

When you see plants on sale at the end of the gardening season, it can be tempting to grab a bunch. But it’s important to make sure you’re getting healthy plants, especially if they’re perennials that should last for several years.

As herbaceous perennials get older, they might start dying in the middle, with new growth happening only on the outside. This means fewer flowers, and it’s a sign that it’s time to give the plant a boost through a process called “division.” Division is like making copies of a plant. You cut a big clump of the plant into smaller pieces, and each piece grows into a new plant. Some perennials, like Allium, iris, hosta, hardy aster, and bee-balm, benefit from division every few years.

Getting Ready for Division:

Before you dig up the old plant (the parent), you should prepare new spots in your garden for the divided pieces (the copies). Plant, water, and put mulch around the new pieces as soon as possible to help them settle in. To divide a perennial clump, use a spade to cut around the edge of the parent plant and gently lift it out. Throw away the old, dying part in the center, and then cut the healthy roots into pieces. Each piece should have four to six buds. Division not only makes the plant healthier, but it also gives you more plants to fill your garden (and maybe even share with your neighbors).

Growing New Plants from Seeds:

Some perennials can also make new plants from seeds. Flowers produce seeds, and one flower can make hundreds of them. But here’s the thing: seeds don’t make exact copies of the parent plant. They can be a bit different. Also, seeds can fly away or spread in your garden and pop up where you don’t want them. Right now, many perennials are making seeds. To control where they grow, you can either cut off the flowers before they make seeds or let them make seeds and then collect them to plant where you want.

So, this fall, think about your garden. You can add new perennials, refresh old ones through division, and even grow new plants from seeds. These tricks will help keep your garden beautiful for years to come.