Divide and multiply. If your tulips have finished flowering and are starting to turn brown, it's a good time to separate bulblets from the bulbs that have just bloomed. Bulblets, which are smaller than a garlic clove, are found at the base of the larger bulbs and break away freely. Remove them and plant in areas where you'd like new tulips. They do best in sandier soils, which stay warmer and drain well during wetter periods. I don't usually wait until fall to separate bulbs because they're much easier to find in the garden when they still have dried stems attached. Prepare the new locations by digging a hole six to eight inches deep. Mix in some compost and place the bulbs and new bulblets in the hole. Partially cover with soil, place a small piece of chicken wire over all that, and fill with soil. The chicken wire will prevent squirrels from digging up your new plantings. Young bulbs typically don't bloom the first year after transplanting. They take two to three years to store enough food reserves to produce a flower stalk.
Manicure iris plants. Once your irises are done blooming, cut the stalks down to the ground. In a few weeks you can begin dividing if your plants are too rootbound. Unearth the rhizomes with a cultivator. Inspect for areas that may be soft or discolored, remove with a sharp knife, and discard in the trash, not the compost pile. You don't want to spread diseases or pests to your new transplants. Before planting, let the divided rhizomes dry out for several hours so the parts that were cut can harden or callus over. Don't mulch your newly planted iris. The rhizomes don't like a lot of moisture; they can easily rot. To see how it's done, go to www.gardeningknowhow.com/flower/dividing-transplanting-iris.htm
Prime garden beds. It's finally OK to plant tomatoes and other warm-season crops, as the danger of frost is past. Dig deep holes for your tomatoes; they're one of the very few plants for which deep is better. You can also dig a long trench, lay your tomato plants in on their side, and bury as much of the stem as possible. Both methods are conducive to developing massive root systems to support the plentiful crop you're planning on. If you have trellises in place, start training the young plants as they grow. For interesting trellis ideas, go to free.woodworking-plans.org/tomato-trellis-designs.html
Select pots according to gravity. If you're planting mixed containers, you need to tailor the pot to the plant. If you have a plant that needs quick-draining soil, like bearded iris and other xeriscape plants, a taller, more upright container will drain quicker. If you want the water to linger in the pot longer, use one that's wider than it is tall. It'll hold water better for impatiens and other plants that need slower-draining conditions.
Speaking of water …There are many products on the market now, such as water-absorbing crystals, that can make watering less of a chore. Adding these so-called "superabsorbers" to your potting medium makes it less likely you'll overwater. Some are made from corn gluten, others from polymers, but they're all capable of absorbing many times their weight in water, releasing the moisture when the plant's roots need it. You could mix the crystals with compost when preparing soil in your garden beds, but I prefer to use them in containers. I've been doing that for years and I'm watering less as a result. Be careful not to put too many crystals in the pot; your plant will get waterlogged. For a good explanation of how crystals work, go to www.seniorwomen.com/hs/articles/coyner/articlesCoyner0602.html
Take advantage of volunteers. This year I've noticed many new seedlings coming up around my hellebores, columbines and money plant. I certainly welcome these volunteer plants, but sometimes they grow in the wrong place. Just before the next rain, I'll move them to bare spots in the garden. A year ago, I moved close to 100 tiny hellebores, which are now getting very large and turning into a great ground cover for a new area I've begun to plant. Volunteers are wonderful money-savers; you won't need to spend as much on new perennials. For more information, see www.oregonlive.com/hillsboro/index.ssf/2012/04/take_advantage_of_volunteer_pl.html
Lay down the life support. When you plant your vegetables and flowers, put down soaker hoses, too. They're easily hidden under mulch, and will allow water to seep directly into the soil at a uniform rate. You can buy timers to program them, but I like to just attach one end of the soaker hose to the faucet and turn it on when the plants need watering. It's helpful to have a rain gauge or soil-moisture meter to tell you when watering's necessary, but one thing's true across the board: Give your new starts a proper welcome by watering for a good 30 minutes. www.savingwater.org/docs/SuccesswithSoakerHoses.pdf
Eva Monheim is a certified arborist, master floral designer, and full-time lecturer in horticulture at Temple University Ambler; she is also an instructor at Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square. Contact her at email@example.com.