KC Gardens

When to divide perennials

Monarda

Tip of the Week

What a difference a year makes. Last year at this time we were at least a month ahead of schedule and summer planting was in full force. This year we are two weeks or more behind schedule due to the much cooler temperatures. But no matter the Kansas City weather forecast, there are always yearly chores to do in the garden. One of them is dividing perennials.

From time to time our garden perennials need to be divided. There is no set rule of thumb about how often this chore needs to be completed, but here are some basic guidelines to help determine if your clumps need to be tackled. Some perennials are best divided every three to five years, while others, such as the peony, may never need to be touched.

To help you determine whether it is time to divide or not, answer these three questions. If you answer yes to any one of them, then now is the best time to divide most common perennials.

  1. Have you noticed a reduction in flowering? Overcrowded plants will not flower as nicely. This is true of daylilies. So if you think the plant should have more flower stalks then maybe it is time to divide.

  2. Does the plant have an open center or donut-look? As crowns mature oftentimes the center dies out. New growth then comes from a ring around the dead crown. Ornamental grasses and some hostas suffer from this problem. Dividing is one way to prevent this problem.

  3. Has the plant outgrown its allotted space in the garden? Some plants spread rapidly, overtaking their neighbor’s place. If this is occurring, then it’s time to divide. Monarda and Nepeta do this, as do many other perennials. Simply remove the shoots, or dig and replant.

    A nice size division should contain no more than three to five shoots or growing points. Planting too large a part of a division will result in a more rapid turnaround and the time to divide again. Dividing a perennial can be work, but it is also one of the great joys of gardening to see a plant renewed and ready to perform and create a show in the garden.

One last comment; don’t feel you need to plant every divided start back into the garden, or peddle them up and down the street trying to give them away to your neighbors. It is okay, and life will continue, if you simply discard the extra plants.

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