Wednesday, October 22, 2014

How to Divide Perennials

Dividing perennials allows you to separate one plant into two or more smaller plants. It's a great way to propagate new plants from the existing ones in your garden. It's also useful in rehabilitating a clump which is too crowded, or a clump which has an unhealthy center. Not all plants can be divided, but this works well with plants whose roots form "offsets", or smaller plants growing at the base of the larger plant. 
You can see in the picture above that this coreopsis clump is actually made up of many smaller plants. The roots may be connected, but the plants can be pulled apart and transplanted. The list of plants which can be propagated this way is very long and includes asters, violets, coneflower, hostas, yarrow and daisies. 

My coreopsis was planted in the corners of some of my vegetable beds to attract bees and other pollinators.
Clearing my beds to make room for my winter garden meant that the coreopsis had to be moved. The clump had suffered toward the end of summer and was not looking very happy with its dry leaves.
To divide the plant, first dig it up and gently loosen and untangle the roots.
Using my fingers, I tenderly pulled apart the plant into 4 pieces, each with at least 3 growth buds and roots attached.
My soil is light and these plants came apart easily. If your soil is more compact or if the plant is large, you may not be able to separate the clump by hand. In that case, use a trowel or shovel to slice the clump into sections.

These four coreopsis plants were transplanted into our empty area next to the fence. 
I sowed wildflower seeds in the empty area and sweet peas near the fence too, so this spring it should look lovely.
When transplanting, dig a hole big enough to allow the roots to be spread out. Bury the plant to the same depth it was growing before. It should end up with the crown even with the surface of the soil.
If the plant will be hand watered (as opposed to a soaker hose), I find it is helpful to create a raised mound around the plant. This keeps the water from running off, and directs the water to the roots.
Fall is the ideal time to divide and transplant perennials because the soil is still warm but the nights are cool. This encourages the plant to put effort into growing roots instead of leaves. The plant will rest over the winter, then when spring comes, the plant will already have a strong root system. It will be ready to grow and flower, attracting those busy bees.

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