Dividing + Transplanting Perennials

Many of us grow perennials because they come back for years and provide variety and interest to our gardens. Eventually, you’ll encounter the need to divide or transplant them if they become overgrown, crowded, or you’d like to place them more strategically around your garden. If done correctly, most perennials can easily be divided without harming the plant. Keep reading to learn how to best go about it!

Determining Division

Spring and fall are the most ideal seasons to divide and transplant perennials or ornamental grasses. The plants will need a few months to re-acclimate before their bloom time in order to not skip a season of blooming. They also need a good 6 weeks of growing before the first frost.

You’ll want to be on the lookout for these warning sign that your plants may need to be divide while they are still healthy:

  • The plant is growing larger than the space it was assigned or is crowding other plants
  • There is thinning near the center
  • Less flowers are blooming, leaves look malnourished or weak growth

Preparation

The day prior to dividing your perennials, give them a good watering to help them drink up and survive the shock of transplanting. AquaJoe hose nozzles feature an adjustable throttle spray with patterns from gentle spray to jet so you water your entire garden without walking your entire yard.

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Next, get equipped with the following tools:

Get Digging

Your approach to dividing perennials depends upon the growing habits of each plant. Ideally, you should transplant your perennials right away. If you can’t, then place them in the shade and sprinkle with water until their new sot is ready.

Clumping Perennials: (hostas, chrysanthemums, asters, daylilies) These plants usually grow from one central crown, which gets larger each year. Sometimes, baby plants (also known as offsets) will become attached to it. These varieties are easy to divide if you dig them up completely – then separate and divide the crown.

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Spreading Perennials: (bee balm, phlox, leadwort, perennial vinca, gooseneck loosestrife) These plants grow by establishing root systems or dropping seed. While they look like they are a grouping, each individual plant has its own crown. These are easy to divide as you can simply dig up the ones you want to move and leave the rest.

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Woody Perennials: (rosemary, lavender, candytuft, euonymus) These plants have just one main stem or trunk, but spread when one stem touches the ground and takes root. You can dig up the new plant without harming the original.

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Taproot Perennials: (butterfly weed, poppies, balloon flowers) These plants have a one central, deep root. To divide them, you have to dig up the plant and cut it so each piece has part of the root with some buds.

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Tips + Tricks

  • Use your shovel to dig deep into soil about 6 inches from the crown of a plant to sever its roots
  • Work your shovel under the clump and gently pry it out of the ground try not to break any stems
  • Pull or carry the plant to your garden cart for easy transportation

Divide + Conquer

If your perennials are of the clumping variety, you will need to divide them after unearthing. Pull or cut the crown into about 3-4 masses. Each mass should have several stems and a nice bit of roots. Don’t be afraid if you have to cut some roots, but me mindful of where the plant seems to natural have “seams.” Always discard broken pieces and keep only the healthiest parts.

daylily clump ready for division

Replant

Now you’re reading to transplant your perennials! Digging, cutting and separating plants causes a fair amount of trauma. Give them some  TLC to ensure they’re well nurtured by following these steps:

  1. The new hole should be just as deep and a bit wider than the root clump
  2. Mix in plenty of organic matter to promote root growth
  3. Spread the plant’s roots out and down – roots should not grow straight down or straight up
  4. Fill around the plant with soil at the same depth it was at originally
  5. Water the plant well and then every other day for the next 2-3 weeks. Don’t be afraid to feed regularly with organic fertilizer
  6. Add mulch to insulate the roots and seal in moisture

If your new plant is too top heavy, it is OK to trim it down a bit. Newly divided plants usually don’t look very pretty until the next season, so focus on getting the roots established and the crowns straight.