Dividing perennials

A number of perennials need periodic dividing. You know when yours do because the plants are growing in ever-denser clumps and the flower show isn't as prolific as it was in previous years. The interior of the clump, in particular, may become disappointingly unproductive.

Luckily, rejuvenation is both possible and easy! Just review Figure 7-5 and follow these steps:

1. Dig up the clump, taking care to get as much of it as possible without damage.

Most roots are in the top 12 inches of soil, and the root's mass will usually be the diameter the plant plus 3 to 6 inches beyond the plant. For digging and transplanting, going larger than this shouldn't be necessary.

2. Cut or cleanly break the clump into two or more pieces (divisions), each with an obvious growing point and some roots.

Work on the clump quickly so the plant parts don't dry out too much (you can cover them with a tarp or mist them occasionally if need be). Discard any unproductive portions and any shriveled or rotten parts. Leave the roots surrounded with the soil to protect the root hairs from drying out and becoming damaged.

3. Replant the new pieces, some in the same spot and the others perhaps elsewhere in your yard (or give them away to other gardeners).

Water the divisions in well, and look in on them regularly. They should generate new, smaller, vigorous plants.

Figure 7-5:

Two different methods for dividing a perennial. The method on the right is recommended for plants with thick or dense root structures.

Figure 7-5:

Two different methods for dividing a perennial. The method on the right is recommended for plants with thick or dense root structures.

Here are some tips for success:

1 Good timing is important to give the new pieces the best chance of prospering. Early spring is usual, but you can divide some (notably poppies and peonies) in the fall.

1 You can pry apart fibrous-rooted perennials with your bare hands; all others require sharp, strong, clean tools that are equal to the job: a stout knife, a trowel, even two spades or gardening forks braced back-to-back.

1 Plant in good (fertile and well-drained) ground. Perhaps the original spot could use a dose of organic matter before you return pieces to it; when planting elsewhere in your yard, prepare a bed in advance so you can move quickly. See Chapter 4 for info on soil amendment.

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