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Posted on Wed, Nov 10, 2010 : 11:47 a.m.

Garden Faerie: Dividing, transplanting is like gardening chess

By Monica Milla


Monica Milla | Contributor

The fall task of dividing, planting, and transplanting perennials always strikes me a bit like a game of chess: You have to be able to envision how a setting would look with various elements all moving positions several different times.

Unfortunately, I'm not good at chess. I'm not queen of the board. Or even one of those cute little horsies. I'm pretty sure I'm a pawn.

Even so, I've gotten a lot done in the garden this fall. I've harvested the last of my veggies and cleaned out the bed, but I still have to deal with some pots. I finally planted about (ahem) two dozen plants that have been waiting a really long time to get into the ground (some since {sideways glance} June).

The reason I waited so long is because I had to make a few gardening chess moves prior to getting them into the ground. I had to make room! I dug out a lot of Japanese anemone and rudbeckia, which freed up some space, but then others things needed to be divided, which took much of that space right back. Then certain things had outgrown their original locations and had to be moved.

For example, I had a perfect space in mind for a little bluestem grass (Schizachyrium scoparium), a really cool native plant), but to make room I had to dig out a big, prickly, unwieldy, non-native, invasive barberry shrub. Let's just say that was not at all fun and leave it at that.

But such easy switch-out spaces are increasingly hard to come by in my garden. So many plants have outgrown their original home (or have been shaded out), so they have to be moved — and often divided, which creates two or three plants instead of one. And often, the ideal places for these plants already have other plants in them.

This makes me wish I were a good chess player, so I could easily envision the environment seven plant moves from now, and work out a cunning master plan, calmly and with a sense of control. Yeah, that's not gonna happen!

Heck, even non-plant items move into new roles and positions in winter. It dawned on me to use a now-empty tomato cage around my pushing-the-zone red yucca (Hesperaloe parviflora), not as a plant support but as winter protection. Filled with leaves, the cage will give the yucca some insulation. Once in a while, I get a win!

So, all and all, it was a lot of hard work, but things are all where they should be now, none the worse for wear. What about you? What winning gardening chess moves have you made?

Monica Milla, the Garden Faerie, is a master gardener volunteer, garden speaker, garden coach and author of "Fun with Winter Seed Sowing."



Thu, Nov 25, 2010 : 9:15 p.m.

Chess? I can't even play checkers. Maybe that's why my garden looks like Battlefield or maybe Operation, what with all the holes everywhere.


Thu, Nov 11, 2010 : 1:07 a.m.

My best chess moves to date happened late last summer and well into the fall. The garden looked so much more cohesive and beautiful this season, after all those moves. This year I did very little moving stuff around as I found room for all the nursery pots full of plants that accumulated here over the summer. You're way ahead of me on fall cleanup Monica. I still have stuff to bring in and a lot of cleaning up to do. Maybe if I get my clients gardens all cleaned up before we have snow, I'll finally have time to clean up my own garden. :)