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Growin’ in the Gold Country by Don Urbanus – It’s Time to Divide Perennials  - March-April

                                             Perennials dormant through the winter are starting to poke their leaves up out of the soil and come out of their slumber.  This kind of perennial is often called an “herbaceous” perennial.  There are also evergreen perennials like Armeria or Thrift and some that go semi-dormant like a Shasta Daisy.  This is the best time to divide them all.

            Dividing perennials in the fall can often be fatal as they often rot during the winter.  With a few exceptions like Iris and Peonies, which are planted in the fall, it is best to leave them undisturbed until late winter or early spring.  Perennials that are pushing up new growth and starting to actively grow resist rotting. 

            First dig up your perennial or knock it out of the pot.  A nice cloudy day or cool windless day or a shady spot is best so that exposed roots don’t dry out.   Prune or pull off any old or dead leaves or flower stalks.  With a sharp shovel or machete, cut or chop off the bottom portion of the roots but allowing at least a good six inches or so below the plant.  This will allow you to be able to divide the perennials easier.

            Next, with a soil knife (or a dull old kitchen knife), start separating the clump.  Don’t be afraid to get in there and pry those roots.  A soil knife is a special thick knife that is usually serrated on one edge for sawing and concave so it is easier to pry.  Preferably divide instead of cut the roots.  Perennials seem able to take all manner of prying and tearing.  Cutting into the “crown” or the part between the roots and the growing portion should be avoided.  Often those cut parts don’t survive.

            A really stubborn perennial like an Agapanthus or Lily of the Nilemight need a shovel or ax to divide them.  When possible, get back in there with your soil knife and pry.  Each division should be a nice healthy clump that will produce flowers the first year.  Combine any little stragglers with some bigger mommy plants.  Dump any rotten or damaged perennials. 

            In some cases, if the leaves are already long, like in the case of the Daylilies in the pictures, cut back the leaves.  Your plant will look tidier without floppy leaves and won’t hurt your divisions a bit.  Just don’t cut off any emerging flowers. 

            Transplant the perennials back into their flower bed with some fresh compost or humus, add a balanced fertilizer, preferably a slow-release or organic fertilizer, and water them in.  Perennials being repotted should have fresh potting soil and fertilizer.

            Dump the old roots and soil onto your compost pile.  Grab a nice cool drink and sit back and let your perennials put on a show for you in the coming spring and summer.

Some Common Perennials to be divided now: 

Catnip/ Catmint






Evening Primrose



Herbs - most


Lamb’s Ears

Lily of the Nile


Red-hot Poker

Salvia – herbaceous kinds

Shasta Daisy

Society Garlic



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