Put new life into your mums by dividing tired, old clumps

Backyard Q&A

April 13, 2003|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

I planted pots of garden mums in the fall of 2000. They were very nice the first year, but they have declined the last two years. Should I replace them?

Garden center mums are often very large when they are sold and continue to rapidly grow new shoots from the crown. This causes overcrowding after a year or two. Overcrowded mums tend to die out in the center and produce weaker stems with smaller flowers. Rather than replacing them, I would recommend that you divide your mums shortly after they emerge from the ground this spring.

Start by digging the entire clump out of the ground. Then take a sharp knife and cut off 2- to 3-inch-diameter pieces from the edge. You will notice that the center of the plant has very little new growth. This portion should be discarded. However, all the new pieces you have taken from the edge can be planted to start new clumps. You should not only have enough new starts for your garden, but will likely have enough for your friends.

I am concerned that some of my shrubs and trees were damaged by last year's drought and this winter's snowstorms. What is the best way to tell if they were damaged?

Most plants have already set new buds and some are already beginning new growth. If your plants have not started to produce new leaves, take a look at the buds. A healthy plant will have plump, fleshy buds. If your buds look dried and shriveled, it is a sign that the plant stem has died.

A few plants, such as crape myrtle, are slow to begin new growth and may appear to be dead at this time of year. Scrape back a little bark with your thumbnail. If the plant is healthy, the stem will be firm and you will find a bright green layer of tissue right underneath the bark.

A dead branch will be somewhat spongy and be brown underneath the bark. Dead branches should be pruned out.

Checklist

1. Planting trees this spring? They can be planted in moist soil, but avoid wet or waterlogged soil. Wet soils compact during planting and make a poor medium for root growth.

2. Bring your compost pile back to life by turning it and incorporating green materials like grass clippings or fruit and vegetable kitchen scraps.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic. umd.edu.

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