Dig, divide and boost your garden’s beauty

Overcrowded, poor flowering, and floppy perennials can be invigorated with a shovel and a bit of your time and energy. Dividing perennials is an excellent way to improve their appearance and create new plants to use in other spaces in your landscape.

When dividing perennial plants use a sharp spade or Hori Hori garden knife to easily cut plants into smaller sections. Photo by Corona Tools

As the old garden adage states “divide spring flowering perennials in late summer or early fall, divide fall bloomers in spring, and summer blooming perennials in either spring or fall.”  Some gardeners prefer to enjoy the spring blooms and divide soon after the flowers fade. Most gardeners have found the best time to divide is when they have the time and can provide proper post-transplanting care.

Reduce the stress on plants by dividing perennials on a cloudy, overcast day when the plants won’t dry out so quickly. Make sure the plants are well-watered a day or two in advance of dividing.

Dig up the whole plant using a garden fork or sharp spade, like Corona Tools’ DigMaster Nursery Shovel (coronatools.com), with its narrow, hardened steel blade. A shovel with a long handle and narrow blade makes it easier to access plants in small and hard-to-reach spots in the flower garden.

Carefully lift the plant out of the soil. Depending on the plant and the tenacity of its roots, you may be able to gently pull the roots apart with your hands. Otherwise, use a sharp spade or knife, such as a Hori Hori garden knife, or a reciprocating saw to cut the plant into smaller sections.  Some gardeners place two garden forks back-to-back in the center of the clump and pull the forks apart to make the divisions.

Discard the dead center, if needed, in the compost pile. Make sure each division has at least three to five healthy shoots and adequate roots. The larger the division, the quicker it will fill in the space and possibly need dividing sooner than smaller divisions.

Replant the divisions as soon as possible. In the meantime, store them in a cool, shaded location and keep the roots covered and moist.

Prepare the soil before planting. You can plant one of the divisions in the original spot once the soil is amended. Use the others to fill in bare areas or start new garden beds. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots. Plant the division at the same depth it was growing. Some gardeners set it slightly higher so it can settle in place. Either way, make sure the roots are not exposed and the crown, the part where the roots meet the stems, is not buried.

Gently firm the soil around the plant and water thoroughly.  Check the soil moisture every few days and water deeply and often enough to keep the roots slightly moist. Reduce your watering frequency as the plant begins to develop a more robust root system.

Start by dividing just one or two overgrown plants. As you master the technique, you will find it easier to divide perennials when needed to keep your gardens looking their best.

About Melinda Myers
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2ndEdition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Corona Tools for her expertise in writing this article. Myers’ website is www.MelindaMyers.com.