Give Perennials Some Love and More Leg Room

Perennial plants are relatively care-free additions to the garden. They come up every year growing bigger and better. But, believe it or not, they can actually get too big. The new shoots and roots get crowded, the stems in the center can die off or the foliage may turn yellow. They’ll produce fewer and smaller flowers. These are all signs that your perennials need to be divided.

Dividing your perennials has benefits that go beyond plant health. With all of your new divisions you can increase their footprint in the bed they’re in or plant them out to enliven other perennial borders. Sharing them with friends and neighbors is always appreciated. Maybe they’ll share with you.  Who doesn’t love free plants?

When to Divide Perennials

A general rule of thumb is that perennials should be divided about every three or four years. Like all rules, there are exceptions. Some very vigorous growers like gooseneck loosestrife may need to be divided every year or two. Others, like peonies don’t like to be disturbed at all. When to divide is a frequently asked question. Spring flowering perennials are best divided in the fall and fall blooming plants should be divided in the spring. Naturally, there are exceptions. Many people in cold climates do all of their dividing in the spring because plants don’t have a chance to reestablish themselves before freezing weather hits in the autumn.

Rules are made to be broken, given enough TLC before, during and after dividing, you can do it whenever it best suits you as long as the ground is not frozen. The advantages of spring and fall division is that weather conditions are usually cool and wet. This reduces the chances of your plants becoming stressed and dehydrated during the process.

How to Divide Perennials

Prep Perennials

Water the perennials you intend to divide the day before you’ll actually divide them. This makes it easier to get them apart and helps guard against the roots drying out. It’s also a good idea to prepare the new bed they’ll be going into so that the plants’ roots spend the least amount of time above ground. This is also the best time to incorporate Espoma’s Bio-tone Starter Plus into the soil. It will help the plants grow bigger, healthier roots and also helps them to establish more quickly.

Divide the Plants

Grab some gloves and a spade and let’s start dividing. Use the spade to cut a ring all the way around the plant to be divided and then pry it up. Depending on the size of the plant or the root depth, you may need to use a trench shovel. Holding the root ball over a wheelbarrow, gently loosen the soil around the roots. Using a plant knife, an old kitchen knife or spade, divide the root ball the best you can leaving as many roots as possible intact. If there a lot of top growth on the plant, cut it back to about 6 inches so it is in balance with the disturbed root system.

Relocate

Place the divided sections in their new locations and the divided plant back where it came from. Back fill with soil, making sure the top of the root ball is at the same level it was previously. Water deeply. And, continue watering well every few days for the first couple of weeks, then you can taper off. Your plant might look a little sad and droopy at first. Don’t worry, it will need a couple of weeks to recover and then everything will be fine. After your plants have established themselves feed with Espoma’s Organic Plant-Tone.

Want more perennials? Check out these powerhouse perennials that work overtime…so you don’t.

Espoma Products for Dividing Perennials

It’s Possible to Grow Citrus from Maine to Florida

Florida and California are known for their fresh oranges and citrus (the area between California and along the Gulf Coast to Florida is even known as the citrus belt). While growing citrus trees outdoors is best suited to USDA hardiness zones 8-10, if you live in zone 7 or cooler you can still grow dwarf citrus in pots, however, you need to bring them indoors for the winter. That might sound like extra work but one smell of the intensely fragrant blossoms will make it all worthwhile.

Growing Citrus in Zones 8-10

Citrus plants are sun worshipers, so choose a site in full sun, on the southwest side of your house for best results. If possible, place it near a wall or some other form of protection from wind and cold. Unlike many fruit trees, citrus is self-pollinating meaning you don’t need to plant 2 trees for cross pollination. Even so, bees and other pollinators will visit for nectar and pollen.

Planting Your Tree

Late winter or early spring is the best time to plant. Citrus trees prefer a sandy loam. Good drainage is a must for citrus. Plant your tree slightly higher than the soil around it, as trees will settle in an inch or so. It’s important that the graft (your tree will be grafted on to a different root stock) be above ground so that a new tree doesn’t grow from the understock.

Continuing Care

It’s best to use a fertilizer that is especially formulated for citrus as their needs are very specific. Espoma’s Organic Citrus-Tone works perfectly. You can add a layer of mulch around your tree to help deter weeds and keep moisture in. However, keep mulch 2-3 inches from the trunk of the tree to prevent disease. Water regularly and deeply. Citrus have shallow, broad root systems, they don’t go deep when looking for water.

Pruning Citrus

Citrus doesn’t require regular or heavy pruning[JC1] . They are generally grown in the form of a shrub or hedge. You may remove some of the lowest branches if you’d prefer more of a tree shape. Remove any “suckers” or thin branches that are growing from below the graft. You’ll notice the graft because it will be a little wider than the surrounding trunk. Also, feel free to remove any fast growing branches that stick out and don’t fit the overall shape you desire.

Growing Citrus in Cold Climates

It is possible to grow dwarf citrus trees in pots in cold climates as long as you have a place to overwinter them in a cool, bright spot like a sunroom. You’ll get the best fruit set if you grow your citrus outdoors in the summer and bring them inside before the first hard frost.

Potting Dwarf Citrus Trees

Citrus looks amazing in terra cotta pots. It’s reminiscent of Italian villas. As always with container gardening, use the best quality potting soil like Espoma’s Organic Potting Soil.  Place the pot on a saucer full of stones. That way, the pot will never be sitting in water and the water in the rocks will evaporate and supply humidity to the plants, which they like. Feed you citrus every 3 or 4 weeks with Citrus! It’s an organic, liquid fertilizer designed especially for citrus plants.

When Life Gives You Lemons – Grow Them Indoors!

Products For Happy Citrus Trees

Espoma Organic Potting Soil Mix
Citrus-tone Plant Food

Hoya Care Tips and Propagation

Hoya, commonly called wax plant or wax flower, are sought-after house plants because they are easy to grow, easy to propagate and have exotic, highly fragrant flowers. They are epiphytes, meaning that they grow on other plants and derive nutrients and moisture from the air. There are at least 300 to 400 different varieties, some even say 600 to 700.

Here are our care tips for some of the most common varieties.

Light

Many varieties of Hoya have waxy foliage resembling succulent plants. But, don’t be fooled. They’re not related to succulents and don’t care for the hot sun in south-facing windows. Try an east-facing window or a bright spot with indirect light.

Soil Mix

Because Hoyas grow on other plants, they need good air circulation and like their roots to dry out. Overly wet soil spells disaster. It’s easy to create the perfect soil mixture yourself. Simply mix equal parts of these three products; Espoma’s organic Cactus Mix, Espoma’s Orchid Mix and Espoma’s Perlite.  

Feeding and Watering

Water your Hoya when the soil mix feels almost completely dry. Water it until the water runs out of the bottom, then dump out the excess water. If leaves begin to drop, you may be watering too often, just let the soil dry out a bit more in between waterings. While not in bloom, feed your plant every 2-4 weeks with Indoor! Espoma’s liquid, fertilizer otherwise use Espoma’s organic, liquid Orchid! food. It has a little more phosphorus that will help the plant to produce lovely, long-lasting flowers. They are both organic, gentle on plants and come with a cap that premeasures the right amount for one quart of water.

Propagation

The best way to propagate Hoya is to take cuttings that have two nodes. A node is a place where the leaves emerge from the stem. Either place them in a vase with water or into a jar with moist sphagnum moss. Check on them every few weeks. When you have a good root system, pot them in the same soil mix described above.

In Homestead Brooklyn’s Hoya Care video Summer Rayne Oakes talks about the following Hoya varieties:

Hoya carnosa – It looks like a trailing plant, but will climb a trellis.

Hoya carnosa ‘Compacta Variegata’ – A variegated form with strongly curling foliage.

Hoya carnosa ‘Krimson’ – Has reddish stems and variegated foliage.

Hoya multiflora – This one doesn’t like to dry out. Add a larger percentage of cactus mix to the soil mix you make or water more frequently.

Hoya pubicalyx – This is a climbing variety.

Hoya bella – A trailing habit for a hanging basket.

Hoya cumingiana – This is similar to Hoya bella but prefers a more alkaline soil. Add crushed oyster shells or washed out, crushed eggshells to the top of the soil to lower the pH.

Hoya pachyclada – This one is mounted on wood with sphagnum moss. It’s a beautiful way to display the plant but it will dry out faster and need to be watered more often.  

Espoma Products

Espoma Organic Orchid Mix

Awesome Astilbe

Astilbes are the drama queens of the shade garden.  You cannot help but admire these ‘no-fuss’ divas for their beauty and grace. Flowers can be delicate and frothy or stiff and compact.  Blooms range in color from red, burgundy, white, purple, rosy-purple, peach and various shades of pink. The handsome, fern-like foliage is a delightful contrast to heftier leaves like those of Hosta and Rodgersia. Leaves can be shiny, matted or coarse.  I like to insert additional zing to the garden by incorporating Astilbe with foliage that is bronze or burgundy tinged (‘Delft Lace’, ‘Fanal’, ‘Maggie Daley’), chocolate (‘Chocolate Shogun’), chartreuse rimmed in red (‘Amber Moon’) or chameleon-like (‘Color Flash’) – the leaves start out brilliant green and then morph to burgundy-purple before closing the season in blazing orange, red and yellow.

Photo Courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez


Even though Astilbe is typically known as a shade perennial, it tolerates full sun, as long as there is enough moisture.  Those in the chinensis species are best suited for drier conditions.  These beauties also make wonderful container plants. Hardy in Zones 4 to 9 (many references claim Zone 3), pollinator-friendly Astilbe provides four seasons of appeal (leave the dried flower stalks up for winter interest) with little effort on your part!

Astilbes flower for three to four weeks but by mixing early, mid and late season cultivars, you can enjoy glorious blooms from mid-June until mid-August. These deer and rabbit resistant workhorses range in height from only around 8” (‘Lilliput’) to spectacular back of the border giants that can reach 4’ (‘Purple Candles’, ‘Mighty Pip’).  Astilbe ‘Pumila’ makes a terrific, weed-smothering ground cover with low, overlapping leaves and late season, lilac-pink flowers that top out at 10”.

Photo courtesy of Kerry Ann Mendez


Astilbe does best in organically enriched, moisture retentive soil.  You can achieve this by simply amending soil – or mulching – with compost, aged manures or similar materials.  Further boost the floral display by fertilizing with Plant-tone, a slow release, organic fertilizer. Astilbe prefers an acidic soil (pH in the high 5’s or low 6’s).  Check soil pH by taking a sample to your local extension office or use a do-it-yourself-kit such as Rapitest. To lower pH apply Espoma’s organic Soil Acidifier (elemental sulfur).

About the author: As an award-winning garden designer, author and lecturer, Kerry Ann Mendez focuses on time-saving gardening techniques, workhorse plants and sustainable practices.  She has been on HGTV and in numerous magazines including Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Garden Gate and Better Homes & Gardens.  Kerry Ann was awarded the 2014 Gold Medal from the Massachusetts Horticultural Society for her horticultural accomplishments.  She has published four popular gardening books, her most recent being, The Budget-Wise Gardener (February 2018). In 2016 Kerry Ann introduced National Gardening Webinars that are attended by thousands.  For more about Kerry Ann visit www.pyours.com  

Spring Fertilizing Tips

Laura walks us through fertilizing trees, shrubs, perennials in early spring. Wait until you see some growth on your plant to fertilize.

1. Gardening always starts with the soil. Organic fertilizer “feeds the soil that feeds the plants”. The process by which organic fertilizers deliver their nutrients enhances the fertility and structure of the soil.

Organics are digested by soil microorganisms, which then release the nutrients in a form available to plants. This process produces humus, a spongy material that improves soil structure. When you improve soil structure, the soil is better able to hold the proper balance of water, air and nutrients until they are required by plants.

Plants respond by developing larger root systems. Larger roots support more vigorous top growth and make plants less susceptible to drought. And by stimulating a healthy population of beneficial microorganisms in the soil, plants become more resistant to insects and diseases.

 2. Organic fertilizers will provide slow, steady feeding, as the plants require it. The release process is slow and largely dependent upon three factors: the microbial population in the soil, moisture, and soil temperature.

A healthy population of microbes in the soil is necessary for the digestion process. Moisture is required to sustain microbial life as well as to keep nutrients flowing into the plants root zone. And soil temperature is critical because as it rises, plants require nutrients more rapidly.

Fortunately, microbial activity mimics these requirements and increases as soil temperature rises, so that organics feed the needed nutrients as the plants require them.

Products used in this video:

Plant Some Pansies to Celebrate Spring’s Arrival

Pansies and violas look delicate but are in fact, tough as nails. They liven up our gardens and decorative pots in early spring and late fall, unfazed by cold weather or even snow. The first and last flowers of the year are the most precious and their “faces” shine even on the grayest days. Treat yourself to these little sunshines.

All pansies are violas but not all violas are pansies. Think of the smaller flowered varieties like the good old Jonny Jump Up as violas and the larger flowered varieties as pansies. Some violas are perennial, but they are mostly used as cool season annuals. Whichever you choose, they’ll provide seasonal color for weeks, and even months on end!

Today’s violets are descended from a European wildflower. In the Victorian language of flowers they were used to convey feelings of love and admiration or “I’m thinking of you.” Sentiments not openly shared in that time. The pansy was also the symbol adopted by the Free Thinkers Society, as the word pansy is from the French verb pensée, meaning to think. Wouldn’t you like to send a secret message to someone special?

Another charm of this family of flowers is that they are edible. In the simplest form, you could float one small flower on top of a cocktail. Decorate cakes and salads with their fresh blooms, add them to herb butters or suspend them in honey or jellies. Just one petal of the larger flowered pansies looks heavenly when garnishing appetizers. They even go with grilled meat. When consuming, it’s always best to use your own organically grown flowers and give them a quick rinse before eating.

Both pansies and violas can be planted in the ground, accentuating the edge of borders or growing up together with your spring bulbs. They are marvelous in containers too. An early season container combination could include a closely planted base of violas with pussy willow branches stuck into the soil between them for height. In the autumn, look for the orange and black varieties for a Halloween theme.

When assembling your container, make sure to use good quality organic potting soil like Espoma’s Organic Potting Mix and feed your container plants once a month with a Espoma’s Bloom! Liquid Fertilizer. This foundation will ensure that your plants have everything they need to thrive and bloom and be safe to eat. If you’re planting your violas in garden beds give them a feeding of Plant-tone, an organic, slow release fertilizer.

Violas and pansies will grow in sun or part shade but will do best with about 5-6 hours of light per day. Pansies will bloom longer if they get late afternoon shade. They don’t really like the heat. They both do best in moist but well-drained soil. In general violas tolerate both cold and heat better than pansies. Deadheading spent flowers is well worth your time and will keep plants flowering longer.

Espoma products for pansies and Violas

Espoma Organic Potting Soil MixBloom! Plant Food