Earlier this year I celebrated my sixtieth birthday: since then the NHS has taken a particular interest in my health with a postal bowel cancer test and a Well-man Clinic. Essentially they have given me a health MOT. In the garden we also have plants that have reached the age when we need to do something with them. Looking at hardy perennials first, as the plant grows up, we can see the centre is looking tired and good strong growth is at the furthermost edge of the plant. Now is the time to dig up these plants.
First dig the plant out and shake of the majority of the soil. In sections, dig out the whole plant retaining some of the younger outside growth and discard the solid wooden centre. If replanting back in the same position, you will need to add some well-rotted compost or a bag of soil conditioner. It would also be advisable to add a good general powder fertiliser to the area. The new growth should be divided into manageable sizes and replanted. You may also find that you have sufficient new material to share with another gardener, or you could plant up an empty patch in your borders. You can then improve the area of the old plant as per above and next year plant annuals in their place. This gives you the opportunity to remove any perennial weeds that have popped up in the knowledge that all the annuals will be removed at the end of next year. At the end of next year you can plant up this area with more divided perennials so the border can be continually managed and improved without the need to consider rejuvenating the whole border.
Elderly shrubs also get congested and overgrown and these can be rejuvenated by what at first appears a harsh approach. Cut the whole shrub down to around six inches (15cm) in a process known as coppicing. Most shrubs will respond by sending out vigorous new growth than can be thinned out as it grows away. Should the technique fail, and sometimes it does, then see it as an opportunity to replant with a new shrub. Again whether you coppice or replace, take the opportunity to improve and feed the soil. Roses in particular just get old with poor shows of flowers and either straggly stems or old rotten wood, the kindest action is to replace them. Replant in a different part of the border. With roses I would never plant a single plant in one place: for greater effect try planting three roses of the same variety no more than 300mm away from each other. The three will grow and look like one plant and the scale of flowering will not disappoint. As for my health MOT I received an advisory, when I need a snack I should replace the award-winning Helmsley pork pie with some dried fruit and nuts. I will try, honest!
Mike I’Anson September 2016