HowStuffWorks Answers Your Gardening Questions

Gardening Questions Answered

Crocus bulbs will flower after they have established their root system.
Crocus bulbs will flower after they have established their root system.

We've got your gardening questions answered right here. If you have questions about perennials, bulbs, and fertilizers, we've got answers. Find out the difference between inexpensive and expensive plants, how to protect your plants, and how to coax your plants to bloom. With this information, you'll be armed with knowledge to help you grow a beautiful garden.

Q: It's late winter and I've not yet planted the spring-flowering bulbs purchased last fall. Can they still be planted?

A: Spring flowering bulbs need the winter to establish new root systems and to finish development to bloom. If the bulbs are not spongy -- an indication of a dying bulb -- you should still be able to grow the bulbs; just don't expect flowering the first year. Care for the plants with fertilizer and regular waterings. If the plant is able to build back its strength, it will probably flower the following season.

Q: It's mid-winter and my bulbs and some perennials are beginning to emerge. Should I cover the plants to protect them from the elements?

A: Bulbs and perennials usually begin their growth at the right time, and are prepared for additional cold weather. Remove a bit of the mulch from around the plant. This will cool the soil and slow some of the growth. Just allow the plants to grow naturally and they'll bloom when the time is right.

Q: When is the best time to dig and separate bulbs?

A: The foliage of most spring bulbs will naturally turn yellow about six weeks after flowering. This is a good indication that the plant has produced and stored enough energy to survive and bloom next season. When leaves have begun to turn yellow, dig deeply to remove the entire clump. Gently shake the soil from the bulbs and break individual bulbs from the clump. Immediately replant the bulbs.

Q: After several years in a sunny location and well-drained soil, my peony hasn't bloomed. What's wrong?

A: Your plant is probably planted too deeply. Dig the plant in early fall and inspect the roots for any unusual damage. Adjust the pH to between 5.5 to 6.5. Replant so that the crown -- the part where the buds form -- is one to two inches below the soil surface. Water deeply and apply mulch so the plant can reestablish itself.

Q: When do I divide clumping perennials such as coralbells and Japanese iris?

A: Most perennials divide easily in fall, if done early enough for the roots to establish themselves several weeks before the ground freezes. Late blooming types can be divided in spring, providing there is ample rain or irrigation to encourage rapid rejuvenation of the root systems. Expect a reduction of flowering until the plants become reestablished in their new positions.

Q: What is the difference between inexpensive perennials grown from seed and the more expensive ones grown from divisions?

A: Some perennials are easily grown from seed, and produce flowers within a year or two. However, named cultivars -- plants with specific desired characteristics -- may only be reproduced through cuttings or by division from the parent plant, which displays the unique features. Because it takes longer to produce quantities of plants by division than by seed, production of these cultivars is usually more expensive.

Q: How can I keep spreading perennials like Monarda from invading my more timid plants?

A: Control invasive perennials by forming a barrier around the parent plant. The barrier needs to be set in the ground deep enough to prevent the rhizomes from growing beneath it. Use a large black nursery container with its bottom cut out; sink it in the ground to about 1/2 inch higher than soil level. Plant in the center of the pot and disguise the rim with a light layer of mulch.

Q: Most of the perennials have finished blooming, and I'd like to clean up the garden. How far down can I cut the plants?

A: It's important to leave the crown of the plant undisturbed so the basal leaves can continue to grow and produce food for the plant's winter survival. Cut flowering stalks to about four inches. The remaining stubble will identify the plants' locations so that you won't disturb them during bulb planting or winter gardening.

Q: What is the best method of fertilizing a perennial border of many different types of plants?

A: If the soil is properly prepared with organic matter, and the bed is mulched, only an annual application of complete fertilizer is needed. In early spring, when the plants actively begin growth, sprinkle fertilizer on the soil. Apply by hand to avoid fertilizer settling on the leaves. Use the directions on the bag to calculate the amount to apply.

Q: Why do some of my "full sun" selections of perennials burn up in my southern garden?

A: Garden books categorize light requirements of perennials according to the average light intensity of North American gardens. Plants that need full sun in New England may need protection from the hot afternoon sun in Georgia. Use references to guide your planning, but the best advice comes from experimenting with different species under various light conditions. Also, the use of mulch will aid in keeping soil temperatures lower.

On the next page, learn all about how to plant and care for trees, including your old Christmas tree.

Want to find out more about growing a flower garden, a houseplant, or a vegetable garden? Check out: