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GARDENING BRINGING UP BABIES

By Pipa Greenwood

A visit to any nursery or garden centre at this time of year will reveal a brilliant array of herbaceous perennials. True, right now they may not look particularly enticing as they usually show little growth and seem to be unbelievably small but just take a look at the illustration on the label and you will see that these small plants have great potential. At this stage, before they put on their fabulous foliage or flowers, herbaceous perennials, particularly those grown in relatively small pots (3in or 7.5cm) are fairly inexpensive, usually somewhere around the £1.50-£2.50 mark and great value. They’re packed full of potential and within a year or two will have formed really good sized plants. In order to make sure that newly planted herbaceous perennials not only survive but thrive, it’s essential that you give them that little bit of extra tender loving care. Small plants such as these are more likely to be prone to any weather extremes such as drought or waterlogging and even plants in larger pots should be well established. When you ease the plants out of their pots, if you see a really plentiful supply of roots that usually means you have purchased a good plant. Unlike woody plants such as shrubs and trees, a crammed in root system tends to mean that the plant has been growing well and is unlikely to lead to problems in the future. Check the plant labels to see the ultimate spread of the plant and then this will give you an idea of how far apart you should space them. For the best effect you generally want to grow several individuals of the same species and I suggest you choose an odd number, perhaps three, or five for a much larger garden, as this invariably makes a better display than if even numbers of plants are used. It may be tempting to plant too close and although this will provide a better looking display initially, over-crowded plants are less likely to become well established, will have to be moved in the near future and in the meantime will be more prone to numerous diseases including grey mould and powdery and downy mildews. t’s also essential to plant at the correct depth. With herbaceous perennials you need to make sure that you

place the plant in the ground to the same depth that it was in the container and although you may decide to mulch the soil afterwards, do remember not to mulch right up to or over the crown of the plant, as this is likely to lead to poor growth and maybe even dieback. Weed control is essential and you can either hoe regularly between the plants to prevent the weeds causing competition or you can use a deep mulch or perhaps even place squares of landscape fabric or black polythene around each plant. Do remember however, that if you use polythene, rain will not be able to penetrate through it and so the plants are more likely to suffer from drought.

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