Adventures in Gardening: Nature's Dividend

by David Soper


Many more gardeners are planting perennials than ever before. Perennials are great because they come back year after year, except they don't always come back as the plant we previously knew. Sometimes they are bigger, sometimes they are smaller and sometimes they are no longer right for our grand garden scheme. So, in reality, they are not truly a "plant and forget" addition to your garden.

Now is the time of year to make the adjustments. If a plant is now too large for its site, it may be time for a "root division." Much less painless than a root canal, but just as important.

This is where the plant gives you a dividend, not unlike a two for one or three for one stock split. This is the truly inexpensive way to populate your garden with your favorites.

Here are some of my general observations about dividing:

  • first, divide for health (the plant's) not just looks * be sure each piece, after you've divided, is big enough to survive.

  • Many perennials, the more tender ones, do best with spring division (like chrysanthemums)

  • water your transplants a lot, not less than weekly for three or four weeks.

Generally, perennials won't need dividing for three or four years following introduction to your garden.

The candidates for division include both "clumpers" and "ringers." Some plants just get bigger and bigger in size. These are your basic "clumpers." Others seem to expand from the center out.

In a few years, you have a dead or ugly center and the young vital parts are in a circle around the center. Asters, astilbes and chrysanthemums are three examples. For obvious reasons, I call these "ringers."

You can lift and divide "clumpers" as you would cut up a pie. Just cut out a section or two (including at least three vig- orous shoots in each piece).

"Ringers", on the other hand, require you to cut and lift the new, vigorous growth at the perimeter, leaving the center to toss. Don't bother to compost these tough centers because they take forever to break down. Don't be nervous about this. Dividing is actually good for the plants. It revitalizes them and extends their lives.

A final warning: Don't divide on warm dry days. The ideal is a day that is cloudy and cool with rain in the forecast.


David Soper, The Garden Guy, writes and lectures on gardening topics. Read more on his website, Adventures in Gardening, www.gardenguy.com

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