Free plants? Yes, please! What gardener can resist the lure of filling beds with pretty perennials—without spending a dime? When you first plant perennials in your garden, you know it’s a great investment. After all, most perennial flowers will last for ages, as long as you treat them well. A little TLC—good soil, good food, good water, good light—helps your plants flourish, but dividing perennials keeps them producing beautiful blooms and fabulous foliage for years. Plus, you’ll have more perennials to plant throughout the garden or share with friends!
Why Divide Perennials?
Dividing a perennial helps rejuvenate the plant. As a perennial produces new growth, it may outgrow its space, with the large plant crowding out neighboring plants. In crowded beds, plants compete for water and nutrients in the soil—and if your perennials don’t get enough of either, their performance suffers. In jam-packed garden spaces, the lack of good airflow around perennials can lead to disease. Plus, taller plants, like shrubs, may throw shade on sun-loving perennials that are sprawling into their space, weakening the plant. Dividing perennials stimulates new growth, helps control the size of a plant that’s spreading too energetically, plus it’s a simple, fun, budget-friendly way to make more plants for new garden beds or containers, or to share as “pass-along” plants with friends and neighbors.
When to Divide Perennials
Many perennials benefit from divisions when they’re about four to five years old, but it really depends on the plant and how it’s performing in your garden. A large plant in a spacious bed may keep blooming beautifully because it’s not competing with other plants for water and nutrients, while a younger plant in a crowded bed may benefit from division earlier. If you notice a decline in blooms, it’s probably time to divide.
To help minimize transplant shock, choose a mild, cloudy day to divide your perennials—too much sun on tender roots can cause the plant to dry out. In general, spring and fall tend to be the best time to do this.
Also, you’ll want to divide perennials before or after the plant flowers, allowing it to channel all of its energy into producing strong roots and leaves. You’ll be rewarded with a pretty show once the plant settles into its new home.
If you divide perennials in the fall, make sure to do so at least six weeks before the first expected freeze. This will give your perennial babies plenty of time to establish roots before the soil turns cold.
What You Need to Divide Perennials
- Garden spade or fork
- Sharp knife or trowel, depending on the plant
- Tarp or cardboard (optional, but minimizes mess)
- Mulch (optional, but recommended)
How to Divide Perennials
Be brave: While it may seem crazy to cut up a perfectly nice plant, it really does help the perennial thrive. Here’s what to do.
1. Using a garden spade or fork, start digging down a few inches outside the parent perennial’s perimeter to avoid damaging any roots. Dig deep enough to loosen the roots.
2. Carefully lift the plant from the ground, removing excess soil from the roots, and place it on the tarp or piece of cardboard.
3. Divide the plant into smaller sections. Some perennials can be gently pulled apart by hand. Others, like the fleshy roots of daylilies, need to be cut with a clean, sharp knife or spade. Bigger clumps of perennials, like grasses, are easily divided using two garden forks placed back-to-back in the center of the plant, then pulled apart like a lever. Make sure each perennial division includes 3 to 5 shoots plus a good number of roots. Place them in the shade while preparing to plant.
5. Place the perennial division in the hole so the plant’s crown (where the roots meet the stem) is level with the soil line. Spread out the roots in the hole. Fill the hole with more of the soil mixture and gently pat it to firm the plant in place. Repeat with the remaining divisions.
6. Water well to eliminate air pockets, aiming at the base of the plant. Plan to give each new plant an inch of water per week, and know that even “drought-tolerant” perennials need consistent moisture when they’re first planted.
7. Add a layer of mulch around the base of the perennial to help prevent weeds and keep the soil nice and moist.
8. Feed your perennials throughout the growing season with Miracle-Gro® Shake ‘n Feed Rose and Bloom Plant Food, following the directions on the label. They’ll get the perfect balance of nutrients to produce healthy roots, fabulous foliage, and beautiful blooms.
Ta da! Wasn’t that easy? There’s nothing quite as satisfying as creating new perennial plants to fill garden beds (and containers)—for free! Take that money you’ve saved from your plant budget and treat yourself to a pretty new patio pot. After all, you’ll have plenty of perennials to plant in it for a beautiful show.