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Dividing Perennials: Boost Your Garden ROI

May 31, 2013 | By | Reply More

dividing perennials

Lush garden

There are lots of expensive hobbies out there, like learning to fly a Cessna or extreme ice climbing.  I never thought of gardening as an expensive hobby until I started my own perennial garden several years ago.  It’s pretty easy to spend a few hundred bucks at a time when you’re glassy-eyed and infatuated with new plants.  I have a frequent shopper card at my local garden center, and the number of “loyalty points” I accrue always raises eyebrows among the staff.

Because patience is not a virtue I possess, I tend to over plant and overspend when I’m developing a new garden or perennial border.  I like the look of a lush garden, and I don’t want to wait a long time for the plants to fill in.  I also don’t enjoy weeding.  With perennials filling in the space, weeds don’t have a chance to take hold.


Now, four years into my garden, I’m seeing the need for some serious editing in the form of dividing and moving plants.  By last summer’s end, some areas of my garden were looking overgrown and out of control.

Spring is a perfect time for dividing plants.  In many parts of the country, Spring’s cool, rainy weather is a kind environment for newly divided and relocated plants to get established before the heat sets in.

dividing perennials

Spring is a good time for digging

I have always inappropriately anthropomorphized my plants.  Each year, right before the first frost, when their beauty is fading, I walk through the garden and thank my plants for putting on such a great show all season.  When I pat the dirt around a newly-installed plant in my garden, I say, “Welcome to your new home!”  This year, we are moving, and I couldn’t bear the thought of not taking a few favorite perennials with me in the form of divisions.

Dividing perennials is a great way to start getting a return on your initial garden investment, but you can also use divisions to expand gardens at your home.  Or, in my case, at my new home.  Some divisions of my plants have moved with me to two different houses.  This year, prior to finding buyers for our house, I had already divided some of them again for my new garden, leaving the parent plant behind.

Dividing Perennials the Easy Way

Dividing perennials may seem like a violent thing to do to your delicate plants, but proper division is essential for the overall health of the plant, and it will promote good root development.  Start by deciding what plants in your garden are looking too big for their britches.  Even if something doesn’t appear too big, many plants can benefit from dividing every 3-4 years.

Arrange a “plant swap” with your neighbors who garden.  Everyone divides their overgrown perennials, and then you trade so everyone takes home something new and exciting without spending a dime.

Consult a comprehensive reference to determine if the plants in question should be divided in the spring or fall.  The best book I have found on the subject of dividing perennials and overall garden maintenance is The Well-Tended Perennial Garden by Tracy DiSabato-Aust.  In it, you’ll find advice for proper pruning, disease and pest management, and dividing.  My copy is my trusty advisor, and its beat up pages are smeared with dirt from many trips to the garden.

dividing perennials

Bearded irisis…perfect for dividing



Once you’ve determined what can be divided when, find some extra pots that can be used for holding your divisions until you’ve decided where they’ll be permanently placed.  My garden center has a huge bin behind their greenhouse where they encourage customers to dump their plastic pots for recycling.  I go “dumpster diving” and get stacks of large plastic pots that I can bring right back when I’m finished.

Fill a few of the pots halfway with good potting soil.  Grab your shovel and dig up your “dividee” making sure to get the entire root ball.  Some root balls will divide easily when you use your hands to pull the mass into two or three smaller sections.  Other times, the roots will be so tough and fibrous, you may want to use a small hacksaw to make a clean cut through the roots.

dividing perennials

Divided toad lillies

Some plants, like my toad lillies, were easy for me to divide when I just stuck my shovel in the middle of an emerging clump.  I used the shovel to just dig up half the plant.

Replace one section right back where you dug it up, adding some compost into the soil before you backfill around the roots.  Replace any mulch you may have disturbed and give the plant a good watering.  Take the other divided sections and plant them in your pots, watering well and filling in around the roots with a mix of soil and compost.

Try to transplant your divided perennials as soon as you can and before the weather gets too hot.  Use plenty of compost and give your transplant a good soaking to help it get off to a healthy start.

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Category: Flowers, General, Home and Garden

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