Calculating Plants: Use Math to Plan and Grow Your Garden Calculating Plants: Use Math to Plan and Grow Your Garden

Calculating Plants: Use Math to Plan and Grow Your Garden

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Remember back in grade school arithmetic class thinking you’d never use those skills? Well, surprise! We use math daily, including in the garden. Incorporate addition, subtraction, division and multiplication to plant-by-number your garden with color.

winter flowers

Addition

Add plants inexpensively by growing self-seeders and spreaders. Annuals (plants that live only one growing season) and biennials (plants that last for two years) are the best seed producers.

Pick plants with seeds that may survive our Illinois winters, such as cosmos, cleome and sweet rocket. Good biennials include money plant, columbine and hollyhock.

The spreaders, usually perennials (plants that last more than two years), include rudbeckia, Becky daisies, blackberry lily, Russian sage, bee balm and plumbago.

Subtraction

This brings us to gardening by subtraction, which is just removing any of the “addition” plants from places where you don’t want them. Weed them out when they’re small, and then transplant them elsewhere in your yard or give them to friends as pass-along plants.

When a perennial gets too big for its spot, the center dies out, the flowering decreases or the plant just looks tired and washed out, bring division into the gardening equation.

Division

Divide your plants in one of two ways. For most perennials, especially daylilies, dig up the rootball and cut it into sections. Alternately, slice off an edge of the plant, which works well for plants with “eyes” such as hostas or peonies.

Divide hostas in the spring when the eyes are just emerging. Peonies prefer early autumn.

Multiplication

All that division leads to multiplication of your perennials. Where you once had one plant, now you have three or even four.

Saving non-hardy seeds will give you free seeds for next year. Collect mature, dry seeds. Put them in a container and label it. Store the seeds in a dark, dry place. Try zinnias, sunflowers and nasturtiums.

Multiply a shrub using a method called layering. Take a healthy branch, make a small cut and lay the branch down so the cut has contact with the soil. You will have to use a landscape pin – or a small rock – to hold it in place. Keep the area moist, and in a couple of months the new shrub will have rooted. Then, sever it from the mother plant and transplant it.

Spend the winter calculating how you will use math to grow your garden.

Ask the Expert

Q: Are commercial “compost starters” worth the money?
A: No. A shovelful of garden soil or compost from a previous pile will accomplish the same thing for free.

Q: Can I overwinter soil from my clay containers in the pots or do I need to dump it out?
A: Leave it in the pot. Once the soil has completely dried out, move the pot into a garage or shed where it will stay dry all winter.

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