Now is the time to get back in the gardening game

We’re two weeks into football season and, although gardening and the gridiron have little in common, I think it’s time for a Lombardi-style pep talk because gardeners, it’s time to get back in the game.

Right now is the best time of year to be gardening. The soil is warm but the sun isn’t scorching and the nights are mellow. Plants respond now by putting on lots of root growth and not a lot of flowers or foliage, which means it is the ideal time to plant or divide.

Established gardens have shown off their best and worst by this time of year, so it’s time to make the changes gardeners have been taking mental notes of since spring.

I took advantage of the wonderful weather, which is due to change almost exactly when you’re likely to be reading this column, to plant four clematis and a pair of new hydrangeas, almost all of which required moving existing plants to accommodate the new additions. In some cases, I willfully sacrificed annual flowers that were still looking great, and in other cases I moved existing perennials to more appropriate homes.

Moving plants around like players scrambling around the field during a punt is a process that leaves a bit of a mess in its wake. It’s also an admission that this gardening season has done what it’s going to do, so sacrificing some of its remaining beauty to ensure a better garden next year is a tradeoff we’re willing to make.

The other problem with all this plant moving is that it’s never as easy as just moving the plant. I have large swaths of perennials in need of dividing and areas that I’ve already decided to move them to, but those areas need to be prepared, mostly by digging out a lot of weeds, before the new plants can come in.

The benefit to the process is that it makes editing the garden a bit easier. If moving a plant that’s been dug out due to overcrowding or to make room for something new requires more work before it can be replanted, it’s easier to think carefully about how much we really like it. Moving plants out of guilt, as though merely being alive makes a plant entitled to a spot in the garden, is almost never the right move. Invariably it won’t get the post-planting attention it needs and will likely succumb to willful neglect, in which case you could have saved yourself a lot of time by just taking it straight to the compost pile.

We may be at the beginning of football season, but this is the playoffs of gardening. I know we’re all tired and it’s been a long season, but what you do now will make a big difference down the line. So grab your gloves and your spade and get in that garden. Come winter you’ll wish you spent more of these waning daylight hours with your hands in the dirt.

To paraphrase a man who made a few good speeches: Gardening is not a sometime thing; it’s an all the time thing.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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