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Dividing Perennials 101: Tips for a Beautiful Garden

Perennials are wonderful garden plants. Plants that are hardy enough to continue growing each year in your garden are considered perennials (as opposed to annuals which you need to replant every year). They can be very low maintenance once established, providing gorgeous blooms and even edible parts through the growing season.The Essential Guide to Dividing Perennials

Dividing perennials is often the only job that is needed to keep them in tip-top shape. Dividing helps perennials from becoming overcrowded, keeps them within the space designated in the garden, and can give you more plants for free!

get free plants from dividing perennials

As perennials develop an established root system in the ground, they spread and form larger and larger clumps. Dividing helps to improve aesthetics and blooming as well as protection from fungal diseases and insects. If any of your perennials are underperforming, dividing may just be the solution!

When to Divide Perennials

The best time to divide perennials is after they have bloomed and gone dormant for the year. With the exception of irises and fall bloomers most perennials would adore to be divided in the fall, and thank you for it next year. (Divide irises in summer after blooming, divide fall perennials in fall after blooming or the following spring). Dividing perennials in the fall gives the plants more of a time for the roots to develop strongly into the soil before the next gardening season.

Related: Fall Perennial Gardening: Garden Design on a Budget

Divide the perennials when the plants are looking full and lush but before they start to show signs of overcrowding. The growth and performance of perennials decreases as the plants become crowded. The centers can start to die or the whole plant can underperform like this Heuchera.

This is why you should be dividing perennials

How to divide heuchera

Of course, do what you can and divide the perennials when you have the opportunity, but if you’re noticing that your plant is performing well but is starting to push the boundaries of the space, this is the time to divide the plant. You can use divisions elsewhere in the garden or to give them to friends. Free plants!

How to get free plants!

How to Divide Perennials

If you’re dividing in the fall, it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a cool day. The best time to divide is when the weather is not overly warm as plants establish more quickly in the soil when they aren’t under stress.

Lift the plant from the soil with as little root disruption as possible. Imagine that the roots below equal the size of the plant above to get an understanding for how much spread there is. Use a shovel to start digging around the soil at the edge of where you think the roots are. Dig the perimeter of the roots by driving the spade around the root ball. Now put the spade into the soil and gently trying to start to lift the plant from the bottom of the roots by pushing the handle down and the spade head up. Do this around the circle until the perennial pops out of the soil easily.

I find it handy to have a large tarp or blanket in order to put the big perennial roots on so I can then take a good look at what is there. Shake off the soil have a look at the roots. How much are they entangled? Are there any plants that look like they’ll easily start to separate? Use your hands or two garden forks to gently pry the roots of the divisions of plants apart. If the roots are strongly tangled into clumps difficult to pry apart you can use a garden saw (keeping in mind that this might cause damage to the plant).

How to Divide Perennials

Prepare your garden soil for transplanting by adding in compost and manure into the soil. Remove any debris or diseased leaves and give the soil a good turning so that it continues to be healthy, light, and well draining.

Digging up gautheria in a pot to divide

Plant a vigorous, healthy-looking section of plant back into the space that you removed the larger clump from. Backfill the area with soil and water well.

The remaining sections can either be planted in the garden right away or potted up to be given away. The same rules apply whether the plants are being transplanted to other areas are put into pots that they should go into healthy soil rich with compost and watered well.

If any parts of the plants don’t look healthy then dispose of them rather than planting them in the ground or in pots. There should be plenty left over of healthy plants and you want to start them off on the right foot.

Dividing perennials to make more plants for your garden

More Perennial Gardening Fun

Comments

  1. Hi Stephanie Rose!
    Thank you for your blog and all the hard work you do.
    My husband & I are planning on moving soon (maybe within a year). I have several hosta varieties that need dividing. Can I divide them and leave them in a plastic pot to over winter and plant in a new location next season? If so, do they need extra protection from the winter weather? I am in Michigan, zone 5. Any tips/suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
    Thank you for your time.
    Lee Dodd, Redford, MI

    Reply
    • Hi Lee, thanks for your kind words! I’ve done this myself when dividing perennials – potting them and overwintering, and it’s usually quite successful. I’m in zone 7, but they do fine under cover (like under the deck or under the garage overhang. Divide them, pot them in the largest pots you have with lots of soil, mulch the top of the soil, and water them as you would normally at this time of year making sure they can drain properly. Then, before frost, move them to a covered area that is protected from the elements. They will go dormant so you wont need to water them in the winter. Just keep an eye out for the tender ones. I have heard others use a string of Christmas lights and wrapping the pots in burlap, but we don’t get that cold here so I’ve not tried it. I would hate to create too much heat so they break dormancy, because then they will surely not make it through the winter. Good luck!

      Reply

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