Growin’ in the Gold Country
by Don Urbanus – It’s Time to Divide Perennials
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
Some Common Perennials
to be divided now: