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Your Perennial Garden: a Maintenance-Free Zone? Cont.

From watering to the dreaded weeding - an audible groan immediately goes up for this onerous chore! But is this really so bad? Why not uproot weeds when they're small? This way you make the job easier and, importantly, avoid disturbing your plants' roots. Better still, why not apply an organic mulch in spring or summer when the soil is moist? You'll suppress weeds while, at the same time, you'll also be helping to retain the soil's moisture and improve its structure. Shredded bark and stone chips make a good, decorative, weed-suppressing soil covering.

Perhaps, though, from a plantsman's point of view, the best solution to weed suppression is planting. Columbine, for example, is a natural colonizer and self-seeder: if allowed to spread quite freely weeds are naturally suppressed. Low-growing, creeping perennials, like catmint, fulfil the same function. A luxuriant, naturalistic planting scheme in a perennial garden is the best weed-suppressant of all; easy on the eye and easy on the back!

Of course, there is a difference between luxuriant growth and congested growth. Foliage and flowering displays can be improved by:

1.Thinning or picking out shoots: delphiniums, lupins, and michaelmas daisies benefit from this treatment.

2.Cutting back old flowered stems to promote regrowth: delphiniums, catmint and salvias
respond well and will give a second display.

3.Deadheading, or removing, flowerheads as they fade: chrysanthemums, phlox, lupins, and panstemons will produce a second flush of flowers.

4.Dividing vigorous perennials every three to five years e.g sedums, irises and bergenias. Replant the healthiest, newest sections.

All the above are hardly arduous jobs and, in the case of division, infrequent. These gentle tasks, carried out regularly throughout the summer, exemplify the more relaxing and enjoyable aspects of maintaining a healthy, aesthetically-pleasing perennial garden. "Little and often" is the key.

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