Garden Plot: When to move spring bulbs and what to get dad for Father’s Day

Raised beds = plants that don’t drown

Barb in Glen Burnie writes: “Hi Mike — how are your plants and flowers doing?”

What a nice thing to ask. The answer is that everything is growing great, especially where we renovated a large portion of the garden this spring, replacing half-a-dozen raised beds that were originally framed with fieldstone back in 1986.

Over the years, the soil and stone had settled so much that they weren’t really “raised”anymore.

In their place, we built new foot-high beds made with concrete corner posts from Home Depot that have a hole down the center to accept a length of rebar for support. They also have slots on the sides to accommodate lumber or other framing materials. (We used a composite lumber, such as Trex, but not actually Trex.)

And our timing was great. The new beds are the perfect way to fight back against the endless rains that are now plaguing us for the second year straight. That’s because raised beds drain great, and they keep actual waves of water from affecting your priceless peppers and titanic tomatoes.

During some recent storms, the ground-level garden area has been fully under water, but the soil has remained safe inside the raised beds above.

Give dad a sharp object on Sunday

Its Father’s Day weekend, and your Dad does not want another tie. Instead, why not use this wonderful break from wet weather to mow his lawn and whack his weeds.

Feel the need to give an actual gift? Present him with a shiny, new blade for his lawn mower. You’ll both be amazed at how much better a super-clean cut looks.

Or how about gifting a rechargeable weed whacker? The rechargeable batteries these devices use have improved dramatically over the years. The battery in my new whacker lasts almost an hour, and I’m relieved when it finally starts to run down.

And the benefits to going cordless are many. No more spilling gas in the driveway or dragging a cord around. Feeling generous? Buy a spare battery so one can charge while the other is in use.

If you divide now, you will not conquer

Barb in Glen Burnie writes: “I just purchased an Endless Summer hydrangea. Is it safe to split it apart before I put it in the ground? Or do I need to wait until it’s successfully growing?”

I can’t think of a worse time to try and divide a plant, Barb. The act of planting is already stressful; and chopping away at the roots beforehand could ensure that your Endless Summer will end before the Fourth of July.

Instead, follow the rules of proper planting:

  • Dig a wide hole; not a deep one.
  • Remove and discard any wrappings.
  • If the plant is in a pot, gently break up the soil around the roots.
  • Set the plant higher than it was in the pot.
  • Fill the hole back in with the soil you removed; do not improve the soil in the hole.
  • Water slowly with a dripping hose at the base of the plant for several hours. (Unless it’s about to rain again, of course.)
  • If you feel you must divide, wait until several seasons have passed and do the chore in the early spring or fall, not during the summer.

Great time to move spring bulbs

Wendy in Rockville writes: “I have a big patch of daffodils that are done blooming. I know I need to leave the green leaves alone to re-energize the bulbs, but my ultimate plan is to dig them up and relocate them to another bed. When should I do this?”

  • As soon as the leaves go from green to tan, slowly pull or gently dig the bulbs out of the ground.
  • Gently brush off any dirt, but do not wash the bulbs.
  • Allow them to air-dry away from sun and rain for a week or two (under a ceiling fan is ideal).
  • Then store them in a cool, dry spot in mesh bags, like the kind onions are sold in. Hanging on a wall is ideal. If you put them in a box, don’t seal it. And do not store them in plastic. (Don’t worry about mice; daffodils are toxic enough that varmints don’t bother them.)
  • Then replant them in their new home after Halloween but before Thanksgiving.

How to mulch an oak

Mark in Great Mills writes: “I have a large, established red oak growing in the middle of my backyard that I am particularly fond of. But mowing the grass near the trunk has left nicks in the roots that poke above ground; and very little grass grows beneath the canopy. I would like to create a dripline-sized (about 15-foot radius) mulch ring around the tree but want to make sure grass doesn’t grow through the new mulch bed.”

Easy peasy, Mark. Get a good supply of bulk yard waste compos, such as Maryland’s great “Leaf Gro” product. Do not get composted manure.

Starting about 6 inches away from the trunk, spread a solid 2 inches of the compost out in a circle until you get to a few inches away from the beginning of thick areas of grass. Then use edging to divide the two areas. It doesn’t have to be deep; just a visible divider.

Repeat the mulching with a fresh inch or two of compost every season.

And that’s it. Numerous studies have shown 2 inches of compost to be just as effective at preventing weeds as 2 inches of shredded bark or that god-awful dyed mulch. And it looks great.

Mike McGrath was editor-in-chief of ORGANIC GARDENING magazine from 1990 through 1997. He has been the host of the nationally syndicated public radio show “You Bet Your Garden” since 1998 and WTOP Garden Editor since 1999. Send him your garden or pest control questions at

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