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How and when to lift and divide perennials?

If you want to increase the plant stock in your garden without decreasing your bank balance, then lifting and dividing perennials could be the answer to your prayers. Not only will the regular division increase your stock; it will also ensure that you get healthy, vigorous plants that will continue to perform year after year. So which perennials are most suitable for division, and when and how should you divide your plants? Well, here are Ladybrook Nursery’s top tips.

How often can you lift and divide perennials?

Most perennials will benefit by being lifted and divided every two to three years. The practice helps to maintain both health and vigour. If you’re looking to lift and divide plants for propagation, then you can carry out the task more regularly.

Which plants are suitable for lifting/ dividing?

Most plants are suitable, but the perennials which are most frequently divided are: Agapanthus

Anemone

Aster

Bergenia (elephant’s ears)

Convallaria (lily-of-the-valley)

Crocosmia

Dierama

Delphinium

Epimedium

Eryngium (seaholly)

Euphorbia

Gentiana (gentian)

Geranium

Helianthus

Hemerocallis (daylily)

Hosta

Iris

Lychnis,

Lysichiton

Lysimachia

Primula (primroses)

Ranunculus (buttercup)

Salvia

Sedum

Verbena

Zantedeschia (arum lily).

When is the best time to divide perennials?

Most plants can be divided successfully at almost any time if they are kept well-watered afterwards. However, division is most successful when the plants are not in active growth. The best time to divide summer-flowering plants is in spring or autumn when the soil is dry enough to work. In wet autumns, delay division until spring. Spring is also better suited season for plants that are a little tender. However, spring-flowering plants, like irises, are best divided in summer after flowering when they produce new roots.

How should you divide perennials?

  • Lift plants gently with a garden fork, and work outwards from the crown’s centre to limit root damage. Shake off any excess soil so that the roots are clearly visible.
  • Some plants, like Ajuga (bugle), produce individual plantlets which can simply be teased out and replanted.
  • Small, fibrous-rooted plants such as Heuchera, Hosta and Epimedium can be lifted and pulled apart gently. This should normally produce small clumps for replanting.
  • Large, fibrous-rooted perennials, like Hemerocallis (daylily), require two garden forks inserted into the crown back-to-back. Use these as levers to loosen and break the root mass into two sections. Further division can then take place.
  • In some cases, a sharp knife, axe or lawn edging iron may be needed to separate the clump in two.
  • Plants with woody crowns like Helleborus, or fleshy roots like Delphinium, require cutting with a spade or knife. You should aim to produce clumps containing three to five healthy shoots.

Looking after your divided perennials

You should try to plant your divided perennials as soon as possible and water them in well. Alternatively pot up individually to build up size, overwintering pots in a frost-free environment. Potential problems?

There aren’t many problems that you’ll face after dividing your perennials, particularly if you’ve divided the plants between autumn and spring. However, you’ll need to make sure the replanted divisions don’t dry out as they try to re-establish, and ensure that the pants don’t fall prey to slugs, snails and other problematic pests.

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