Gardening

6 Tips for Dividing Perennials in the Spring

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Perennials offer great value in the flower or shade garden. These plants come back year after year with really minimal care and produce fabulous flowers or show-stopping foliage. Each year, the plants are increasing in size as well. That is one of the main reasons to divide the perennials around your homestead. Here are a few more reasons to consider dividing your perennials:

  • When it is outgrowing the space allotted to it and is close to encroaching on its neighbor, it is time to divide your plant.
  • Another reason to divide perennials is to start new divisions in another part of the garden. You might also want to gift some divisions to someone who is starting a new garden.
  • There are also some perennials that weaken from the inside out. The center of the plant doesn’t look as full and vibrant as the outside. This doughnut shape with a hole in the center is a sure sign that your plant is needing division.
  • If your perennial has been infested with a perennial grass or weed, the only solution is to dig both out and carefully divide the weed from your plant. You will have to be really meticulous to be sure no weed roots remain when you replant your desirable perennial.
  • As you add new plants to your perennial bed, you may need to move another plant to a new location. Sometimes, the new plant is taller and will block the sun, as well as your ability to see the existing perennials. Sometimes, you might relocate a plant to achieve a more pleasing color scheme.


Most perennials tolerate being divided in early spring. If they are divided when their growth is only an inch or two high, they will recover quickly and will probably give a good number of flowers later that season. One exception is any perennial that blooms in early spring. It would be better to allow them to bloom and dig them up for division immediately after they finish blooming. They will have the rest of the summer to recover.

Dividing perennials can be very easy and in no time you will have lots of new divisions and a refreshed plant back in the spot you dug. On the other hand, there are some perennials that have a massive root system, and you will get a workout. These are the steps to dividing and tips to make the job easier.

  1. Prepare The Area. When you dig up the perennial, it helps to have a tarp to place the plant on while you prepare the area for replanting and for working on the root ball of the perennial. A tarp will protect the work area and make cleanup easier and faster. You will also need work gloves, a shovel, and a sharp knife.
  1. Dig out the entire plant. Using your shovel, dig into the soil about two to three inches outside of the plant perimeter. Dig the depth of the shovel straight down. Once you have dug around the entire plant, work the shovel at an angle under the plant. Move around the plant until the entire plant is loose from the soil. Then, place the plant on the tarp. Make sure your shovel blade is sharpened before you start. Even though you are digging far enough away from the plant to keep most of the root system, you will be cutting through roots as you dig. A sharp shovel blade can really decrease the amount of force you need to cut through easily and cleanly. Don’t try to leave a division in the ground to be the new plant. Remove the entire plant so you can work on the soil and ensure the best divisions are replanted.
  1. Replace the soil. If your root ball is big enough to fill a gallon pot, that is the amount of soil that should be replaced at the site. Don’t just pull soil from the sides. This is your chance to amend the soil and prepare it for the next perennial that will be there for two to three Use a good clean soil and compost mix. Add a little fertilizer also to give your new plant a good start. While you are working on the site, don’t forget to protect the plant you dug out. Cover the root ball so it doesn’t dry out from the sun or wind.
  1. Divide the plant. There are some perennials that have a smaller root system that you will be able to tease apart just using your finger. Start by removing most of the soil. This can be done by gently shaking the plant over your tarp or even gently dropping the plant on the tarp to loosen the soil. Some gardeners use a hose to clean the dirt away. The purpose of doing this is to give you better visibility of the root system when you work on it. You also want to check the plant for any areas that appear diseased or damaged so you can remove and dispose of that area. Decide how many sections you want to divide the plant into. Remember that the larger the replanted section is, the sooner you will have to divide it again. Also, this plant is going into great soil and it will be rejuvenated. It doesn’t take long for a small plant to become a good size specimen when given optimum conditions. If your root ball is too tough to separate with your hands, it’s time to get your knife. You need a knife with a long blade, like a bread knife. Just as with the shovel, sharpen the knife. It will cut through the root ball much easier.

  1. Replant the divisions. If you want to keep a division in the same spot, replant it to the same depth that it was growing before. Plant the other divisions in your garden or other beds. If you don’t need more of this particular plant, pot them up and label the pots. These will make much-appreciated gifts for your gardening friends.
  1. Water the plants. Give the divisions a good drink of water and surround them with mulch to hold the moisture in. Don’t let them dry out before they have time to develop some new roots.

Every season, evaluate your perennial bed and decide if any plants need to be relocated and/or divided. Mark those plants in the fall so that when they break through the soil in the spring, you are ready to divide your one plant into many beautiful additions to your gardens.

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