Healthy perennials: How healthy are yours?

Nothing sets a gardener’s hair on fire like finding a sick perennial. 

The darn things are expensive and just when you find one you really like, they “go out of style.” The growers no longer sell them. Think Ole, Lena and crew. They did so well that the grower no longer has them in stock.  The best cure is prevention.

Start in April by doing nothing. Stay the heck out of the garden. All you do is compact the soil and stomp on just emerging plants.  Wait until the plants show several inches of growth then only remove what mulch is just on top of the plant. The best tool for this is a long-handled pitchfork. It lets you lift the mulch from the edge of the bed.

In May, when the soil has dried out a bit, you can start your spring cleanup. Cut off any dead stems and foliage. Bunkey piles the stems in a corner of his lot out of the way for about a week, to let any bees or other pollinators that have overwintered in them emerge.  Then, if you have not been religious about mulching, you may need to fertilize with an organic fertilizer.   Do use organic as it doesn’t diminish the good microorganisms in the soil the way that the artificial ones tend to do.   If you have good soil and top dress with about an inch of compost in the fall, you can skip this step as your garden has everything it needs.

The next step in ensuring a healthy garden is making sure that there is proper spacing between the plants. Good air circulation will stop or reduce powdery mildew. 18 inches of elbow room is about right. Yes, this means you will need to divide some of them every three to four years, but just think how good that is for your abdominal muscles.  Now to watering.  Try to avoid watering overhead. It can lead to fungal diseases. If you must, do it in the morning so the plants dry out before night. Splashing can also cause diseases, thus the permanent mulch.

image credits:  HomesByTradition  |  ALDMN

image credits: HomesByTradition | ALDMN

The gardener’s feet are the best disease prevention there is. Take a walk through the garden at least every other day. Check for powdery mildew, black spot or a plant that just doesn’t look right. if you had a problem with powdery mildew on a plant last year, you may want to spray it before any symptoms appear this year. You can use a commercial fungicide or a DIY of 1 cup of whole milk in a gallon of water and a few drops of dish soap for sticker.

If you see yellow, gray or rust spots on leaves, usually on the undersides, get right at it. Use a spray made for rust and do check the label so you get one for rust, not mildew. Those manufacturers can be tricky, selling you the wrong killer. READ THE LABEL.

Viruses are a different matter. You can’t cure them. Look for yellowing, ring spots, or streaking on leaves. Stunted malformed growth is definitely caused by a virus. Remove these plants ASAP. Bag them and discard. Never, never put diseased material in the compost. It doesn’t get hot enough to kill them.

If you haven’t started your tomatoes, do it now. They take about six weeks to get to transplanting size. The snow should be gone by that time. However, this is Minnesnowda.

By Bev Johnson

Bev Johnson is a Master Gardener with the University of Minnesota Extension. Her column appears in the Weekend Edition.

Source, credits & more information: FergusFallsJournal