The process is simple enough: Dig a clump of plants, then pull, cut or break the sections apart into the size you want, then replant.
This Old Testament admonition to the children of Israel is a call to action for gardeners in the Fall. While more gardeners are always welcome, in this instance, we are multiplying the plants in our garden. Many perennial plants can be divided into several new clumps of plants. “Wait a minute”, I can hear you say, “you said we were to go forth and multiply. Now you’re saying we have to divide! I know there’s new math, but I’m pretty sure multiplication and division are two different functions.” In math, that is true. But this is a post about gardening, so I can use the terms literally, not arithmetically.
Seriously, Fall is a great time to divide perennial plants of all kinds. The process is simple enough. Dig a clump of plants, making sure you have adequate root system in the clump. Then pull, cut or break the sections apart into the size you want to plant. This could be a simple division into two pieces, or multiple divisions into individual plantlets. The first divisions can be quite hard, especially if you’ve let the plant increase for several years without division. Some plants are naturally difficult to divide, like Siberian Iris. I’ve had to use a pick and an axe to dig and divide them. But as you loosen the root ball (which is rarely ball-shaped, BTW), the individual plantlets will loosen their grip, and it gets easier.
Plants will bloom more profusely when divided. Irises of all kinds give you more blooms after division.
Why do we divide plants, if it’s so much work? There are “multiple” reasons, of course. First, we all want more plants, and why not create our own? For some plants, division is the preferred method of propagation. If we want a specific hosta cultivar, that’s how we get one. Many plants grow better over time if they are divided occasionally. Shasta daisy, one of the premiere plants in The Living Garden, will decline over the seasons if not multiplied ever few years. Plants will bloom more profusely when divided. Irises of all kinds give you more blooms after division. And if you have a very vigorous plant, division is an easy way to keep it in bounds.
I’ve written earlier about multiplier and walking onions. If you haven’t harvested, divided, eaten (some of them, anyway), and replanted some of these perennial vegetables, it’s time! Asparagus, however, will be much easier to divide once all of the foliage has died back.
You can wait a bit on other plants, too. Hostas, irises, and daylilies are a bit easier to divide once the foliage has gone dormant. You can, of course, go ahead and divide them now, if you want, but it will put more stress on the plant.
One more tip for you. Make sure that you get roots and crown with each division. If you can get some “eyes” or buds for stem growth the following season, though these aren’t always visible. In making sure you get all parts of a plant, you will have a much better chance of success in your planting.
Get out there and divide some of your plants in order to multiply the opportunities to enjoy your garden. It’s that enjoyment that makes you a Successful Gardener!!!
Article and photos by Jeff Rieves