Fall Is the Time to Divide Perennial Flowers

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Keeping a garden in good shape takes a lot of work. Weeding, pruning, and raking can get to be overwhelming if you do not stay on top of these chores. Fortunately for dedicated gardeners, the timing of these chores eventually settles into a rhythm.

Pollinating insect in action

Please protect pollinating and beneficial insects by limiting pesticide use, choosing biological pesticides, and targeting sprays avoiding beneficial insects.

In my own garden, I fertilize trees and shrubs in the spring and mid-summer, mow about every two weeks and prune about once a month. Some chores, however, I do on a seasonal basis.

Dividing Perennials

Fall is the time of year for cleaning up the garden. This is when we remove any remaining plants from vegetable gardens We also rake and composting leaves. This is the time of year for my favorite chore which is dividing perennials.

Dividing Irises with my grandmother is one of my earliest and fondest gardening memories. No other chore in the garden is so rewarding. Dividing perennials provides a gardener an opportunity to be generous. Dividing makes new plants that we can share, swap, and trade with other gardeners.

Perennials are plants that come back every year. These long-lived plants should be divided occasionally to control the size and quantity of plants in plantings. Division can reinvigorate perennial plants. It can also increase their number.

Perennials such as irises will eventually overpopulate beds. Overpopulated plantings are less vigorous and bloom less prolifically. Pest problems such as ires borers can be increased due to overcrowded plantings.

When to Divide Perennials

Eastern swallowtail butterfly

The best time to divide most perennial flowering plants is the fall. A rule of thumb is to divide perennials after they have completed blooming, gone to seed and the temperatures have fallen. For most plants, this is fall.

Perennials can exhibit signs that they need dividing so check them at the end of every summer. Look for reduced flowering and vigor, dead stems, and a generally unhealthy appearance. Also, look for overcrowded beds by observing plant roots.

How To Divide Perennials

I find the best way to divide perennials is to dig up large clumps of plants at one time and divide them over a wheelbarrow. Using a dull knife or pair of old pruners, I separate the underground structures into individual plants. Then, I drop them in a bucket of water where they can remain for hours or days. It is helpful to have a home for your divisions before you start dividing.

There are many different types of perennials with many varying types of underground storage systems. Perennial clumping grasses such as bluestem have fibrous roots systems and can be separated by cutting down through the stalks and roots. Tuberous plants (plants that have potato-like storage systems) such as Dahlia and Irises are divided by simply separating individual tubers. Stoloniferous and rhizomatous plants (creeping stems) such as Veronica, and Lysamachia can be cut apart with pruners. Perennials with fleshy roots such as Hosta and Huechera are done much the same as grasses.

dahlia and bee

Once plants have been separated, prepare beds according to your preference. Usually, I run a tiller over the old flowerbed and incorporate lime and compost before replanting. In newly established beds, perform a soil test prior to soil prep.

After planting, cut back the tops of new perennials to 6 to 8 inches. Then mulch and water daily for one week. Water thoroughly once a week and fertilize lightly with a fertilizer such as 5-10-15.