Grow your garden with sweat equity
Free plants! FREE?!?? What gardener can resist free plants? By spring, most gardeners are itching to get their hands into the dirt. One great way to do that *and* increase your plant stock for free is by dividing your perennials. It’s a pretty straightforward process, and we’re here to walk you through it step by step.
First things first: you need to know which plants in your garden are perennials. A perennial is a plant that goes dormant in the winter and breaks dormancy to come back in the spring, once soil temperatures begin to warm up.
Some common garden perennials include the following:
- Black-eyed Susan
- Shasta daisy
- Lamb’s ear
- Ornamental grasses
Before you head out with a shovel, do a little research on your own plants. Most perennials respond well to dividing, but there are a few that prefer to be left alone — woody shrubs and those with long taproots aren’t fans of being divided.
Now that you’ve done some homework and have your list of plants to divide, you need to figure out when to start. Many perennials can be divided any time the ground can be worked. There is an old almanac saying that we should divide “spring bloomers in fall, fall bloomers in spring, and summer bloomers in either.” That said, you’ll learn pretty quickly that you can push the limits with most perennials and divide them whenever you have the time. You may disrupt a bloom cycle but chances are, you won’t kill your plant.
In the interest of full disclosure: a certain someone once found a clump of coneflowers that had been set aside to transplant “later” and left through the entire winter. After being planted several months (yes, months) later, the clump still rooted. It sprang right back to life when temps warmed up. Perennials are generally pretty hardy!
How can you tell when a plant would benefit from being divided? It’ll usually give you some hints. Some perennials get floppy. Others seem to struggle to bloom. Still others start to die off in the middle, leaving a ring/donut effect. These are good signs your plant is ready for a refresh. However, you don’t *need* to wait for these signs. You can divide plants because you want more plants, simple as that!
So. Let’s get started, shall we?
- It’s a good practice to assemble everything you need before your shovel hits the ground. Check the weather forecast and do your digging on a cool, cloudy day if possible.
- On dig day, make sure you have water close by, for you and the plants!
- Pre-dig holes where you want to transplant — this lessens transplant shock by shortening the time your divided plants will be out of their dirt homes. Amend your soil as needed.
- Bring a garden cart, tarp, or some other way to transport if you’re moving plants more than a few steps away. Tools to load up into your cart include a shovel or garden fork, a knife, and gloves.
- Now, you’re ready to dig. Cut into the soil around the outside edge of the plant with your shovel or garden fork. Rocking the shovel or fork back and forth, work the roots out of the soil until you’ve eased the entire plant out of the ground.
- For the actual dividing, there are several methods, and most gardeners have a favorite. You can go in hard with a shovel and chop your plant + root ball into pieces. You can use a knife and cut the plant + root ball into pieces. You can use your hands and wiggle the roots apart. If you prefer the last method, here’s a little tip: sometimes swishing the root ball in water makes it easier to gently pull roots apart.
- Now take your divided sections and replant them at the same level they were prior to dividing. If you were dividing because a plant died out in the middle, don’t bother replanting that middle section. Off to the compost bin it goes. Be gentle as you transplant, taking care not to smash the roots but also taking care that the root system makes good contact with the soil in the transplant hole. Water each transplant thoroughly.
- Once you’ve gotten all your divisions into the ground, take a moment to survey your work. Remember to keep up with watering to help the transplants establish themselves in their new homes, especially if temperatures are hot or if there hasn’t been any rain. Consider watering deeply and daily for the first two weeks. After the first two weeks, be on the lookout for drooping on hot days. You’ll know all is well when you start to see new growth appear.
Congratulations on your new plants!