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Monday, April 22, 2024
Growing Together: Multiply by dividing your perennials
Grass needing to be divided. Joanne Young
Dividing sedum. Joanne Young
Joanne Young says to dig out entire clump before dividing. Joanne Young
She also says to add bonemeal before planting. Joanne Young

By this time, hopefully you are well on your way to getting your garden beds all cleaned up.

Once the initial clean-up is completed, it’s time to start inspecting your clumps of perennials more closely. Is it time to divide them? How do you know when they need to be divided? Which ones can you divide now?

Here are some tips to help you out. 

Rejuvenate older plants: As some perennials age, you may see that the clumps will have started to die out in the middle with only new growth appearing on the outer edges of the clump. Or you may have noticed that the plant may not be blooming as heavily as it used to, and the leaves may appear to be stunted.

These are all signs that the plant is losing its vigor and needs to be dug up and divided in order to thrive again.  Unfortunately, there is no set formula as different types of plants require dividng at different times. For some they may need it every three to four years and for others it may be longer. The key is to examine them early spring to see if they are thinning in the middle.

Size control: If you have ever grown Black-eyed Susans before you will know that some perennials will just spread wildly year after year and you need to control the size of the plant before it takes over the entire garden.  Some perennials grow much more aggressively than others.  By dividing the clump into smaller sizes you can keep the plant size under control.

Propagate: Dividing perennials is an easy and inexpensive way to increase the number of plants in your garden especially new areas. It is also a great way to share plants with friends, family or neighbours.

With that said, there are a few perennials that do not like to be divided at all such as Baptisia, Bleeding heart, Butterfly Weed, Christmas Rose, Lavender and Poppies.

Now that we know why we need to divide perennials, the next question is: when is the proper time to divide?

The general rule of thumb of when to divide is: 

  • Divide spring and summer flowering perennials in late summer or fall.  E.g.  Irises, Salvia
  • Divide late summer and fall blooming perennials in early spring.  E.g. Sedums, Coneflowers and Mums.

Here are the steps to follow when dividing your perennials:

  1. If you can, divide your perennials on an overcast day with showers in the forecast — it will greatly help the plant recover from the roots being damaged. It would also be helpful to thoroughly water the plants a day prior to dividing.
  2. When dividing in the spring, wait until new shoots are about one inch tall.
  3. Using a spade or garden fork, dig into the soil about four to six inches beyond where the shoots emerge. Dig all around the clump then pry up on rootball. Dig up the entire clump entirely before dividing and sit it on top of the ground or on a tarp. When you do it this way, you have no way of knowing how much root you will be getting and could be wasting parts of the plant.
  4. Using a sharp spade or knife, gently cut through the roots, dividing clump into as many pieces as desired. Each division should have at least three to five vigorous shoots and a healthy supply of roots. If the centre of the plant has died out, divide the living, outer portions into smaller clumps and throw out the dead, centre portion.
  5. To help get the new clump off to a good start, enrich the soil in the new planting areas with compost, composted manure or triple mix before planting the new divisions. Fertilize new plantings by scattering a handful of bone meal in the bottom of the planting hole. Bone meal is high in phosphorus which will help stimulate root growth.
  6. Fill in around the plant roots with triple mix or compost. Make sure that the plant is in the soil at the same depth that it was previously then water well.

Keep your garden flourishing by dividing your perennials when needed. Remember, it is only in gardening that you can multiply by dividing.

Joanne Young is a Niagara-on-the-Lake garden expert and coach. See her website at joanneyoung.ca


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