Tips On Preparing Plants For Auction or Gifting

Here are Becky’s time tested tips for potting garden plants. Start digging!

Potting PlantsIt is a challenge to keep potted plant divisions thriving and looking good until the Garden Club auction in June. This will be especially true this year because our plants are rushing into early growth and we seem to be stuck in an abnormally warm and dry weather pattern. Here are some tips to maximize both your success and the benefit to the club’s treasury.

Plants should be divided before they have put on a lot of new growth. For example, hostas can be most easily divided when their little pointed noses have emerged, but the leaves have not unfurled. If your plants have already put on substantial growth, don’t be shy about cutting back some of the foliage. The goal is to have divisions with a good balance between the roots and the growth above ground. Cutting back foliage reduces stress. Similarly, don’t hesitate to trim the roots. First remove any dead or non-vigorous roots, then cut back the healthy roots to encourage new growth.

Try not to dig and divide on a hot, sunny, windy day. The best weather is cool and overcast with showers or light rain forecast. If you can’t summon up that perfect weather, protect your newly potted divisions from the sun and wind. Some ideas are to place them on the north side of your house, cover them with a bushel basket, shield them with a beach or patio umbrella.

Water is going to be especially important this spring. After digging your plant soak it for several hours or overnight in a pail or tub of water. I have had good luck adding a couple of drops of Super Thrive to the water. The soaking will hydrate the plant and make division easier.

Keeping your potted divisions watered can be a challenge. The task is easier if you can keep your plants grouped closely together near your water supply. Plants will also not dry out as quickly if you can bury the pots in a free space in your garden. They will grow happily until you are ready to pop them out in June.

Terri and I are always happy to answer questions if you are unsure about when, how or whether to divide a particular plant. If you look for information on internet, some of the most reliable websites are those connected with botanical gardens or universities.

Use potting mixtures that do not contain peat. Not only is peat difficult to hydrate, our planet needs those peat bogs to act as carbon sinks. You can make compost in a few months; peat bogs take thousands of years to form.


Ikebana Lessons for Our Gardens

Even if you do not aspire to make arrangements like the ones that Merle Schlesinger created before our eyes there is much to take away from her program.  Whether you draw out a design for your garden or (as is too often the case with me) wander around with pots of new plants in your arms trying to figure out where to put them, your garden will make you happier if you follow some of the ikebana principles.  Here are some I jotted down as Merle spoke:

  • Place your plants to encourage the eye to travel.  This is true whether you are planting a bowl of succulents or an acre.

  • Pay attention to negative space. The space between your plants is part of the design.

  • Plant in odd numbers and slightly off kilter.  Merle demonstrated this by creating a triangle with unequal sides. To use another example, if you are planting   a bunch  of daylily divisions place them in teardrop shape rather than a perfect circle.

  • Place plants with attention to mass, line, color (remember green counts as many colors), shape, and texture.

  • Keep in mind that a pleasing design has elements that advance and recede.  This effect can be created quite literally or more playfully with color and forced or false perspective.

  • With each of her designs Merle was careful to disguise her pin holder.  Similarly in the landscape it is usually a good idea to anchor specimen plants with underplantings.

  • Merle did not mention this but I noticed that she used repetition.

  • Finally, be sure to walk around and look at your garden from lots of angles, preferably with a glass of your favorite beverage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                         – Becky Mitchell

Hort Moment

Ready to Try Some Winter Sowing?                                            Young Basil, Seedling, Germ Bud, Keimling, Sämling, Basilikum

March is a great time to experiment with winter sowing – a low effort germination  method that allows you to start a lot of seedlings for just pennies.

Here are the benefits:

 It’s easy!

The concept is simple – sow seeds of hardy annuals or perennials into homemade mini-greenhouses and then just place them outside to wait for spring.  Your seeds won’t mind the winter temps; in fact, they require freeze & thaw cycles in order to germinate.

It’s economical!Prepping containers

No need to buy expensive germination set-ups or rig up grow lights. Mother Nature will take care of the lighting. All you need is a few recycled household containers and a knife or scissors. The easiest container to use is an aluminum carryout container with the clear plastic lid. Also effective are milk jugs or large plastic soda bottles.  In a pinch, you can use cardboard milk or juice containers and a plastic bag.

It’s gratifying!

That long slog through mud season will be a little more fun when you can look forward to your tiny seedlings sprouting to announce the arrival of gardening season.

Here’s the process:

  1. Select the right seeds. Hardy annuals that can handle frost and may even need cold stratification to germinate are Bachelor Buttons, Poppies, Violas, Snapdragons, Calendula, Petunias, Sweet Alyssum, Amaranthus, and Cleome. Half-hardy annuals can tolerate some chilly weather but may be damaged by frost.  Marigolds, Love-in-a-Mist, Four O’Clocks, Cosmos, Petunias, and annual Salvias can be started in early spring. Perennials include Foxglove, Gaillardia, Rudbeckia, Sunflowers, Snapdragon, and Echinacea. Any flower that has self-seeded over the winter in your garden is a good candidate.
  1. Prepare your containers, fill them with potting soil, and sow your seeds.  You can find detailed instructions at
  1. Find a good location for your containers. They’re meant to go outside in the cold, the rain, and the snow.  Protect them from strong winds and bright afternoon sun. A somewhat sheltered location that gets morning light is ideal. Placing your containers in cardboard boxes or old propagation trays with drainage holes keeps them upright and allows snow and rainwater to drains out slowly.
  1. Now just sit tight and wait. As the weather warms, the flats will freeze and thaw repeatedly as spring approaches. Just when winter is about to break and you’re still getting nightly freezes, the first of your flats will begin to germinate. The seeds know when it is safe to come up, so don’t worry about the frosts. On an above-freezing days open them up and, if they look like they need a drink, give them one and then close them up again.
  2. As your seedlings grow, gradually open their containers to more light and air. Eventually you’ll have more open area than covered, and your seedlings will be hardened off and ready for transplanting.

Marigold seedlings

Compiled from Dave’ &