When to divideHow to Divide Perennials

by Terese at generousgardeners.com

Get ready.

If you are transplanting in your own yard, it is always best to have the new planting area ready before you divide anything. For just a few plants being moved in an existing garden bed, simply amend the soil with compost. If you are planting an entire new garden bed or border, it is best to get a soil test from your local agricultural extension or university. They will give you simple directions how to take it and where to mail it. The results are usually mailed quickly and give you detailed instructions regarding which amendments to add to your particular soil. Doing this will give you the best possible growing conditions for whatever type of plant, tree or grass you choose to grow.

Get set.

Check the weather. Try to plan on a dividing day when it will be overcast and light rain is  forecasted for a few days following your transplanting. If no rain is expected, then water the plants to be divided a day early. Gather a clean, sharp, flat tipped digging spade, pruners and a carpenters saw if necessary. Have string or a bungee cord available.

Go divide.

Tie up the leaves of mature plants with string or a bungee cord so you can see where you are digging underneath. In the fall just cut the leaves off before dividing. Dig deep, all around the drip line (area where water would drip off the outermost leaves of plant).

For the small to medium size rootball easily taken out of the ground. 

Shake or wash off some soil to see where a division can be made. Decide which type of roots it has.

Clump Forming

Gently pull or cut apart off sets (small baby plants) on the edge of the clump in plants such as Hosta and Daylily.

Underground runners

Clip or tease underground runners apart in plants such as Japanese Anemone and Ferns.

Surface roots

Clip or tease apart surface roots or runners in plants such as Pachysandra or strawberries.

Woody Crown Plants

Cut a section off of woody crown plants (such as Euonymus and Salvia) where a woody stem has been laying on the ground and has produced new roots.

Tap rooted 

Tap rooted plants such as Balloon Flowers and Baptisia are more difficult to divide. Cut a new small tap root section with at least one eye and the stem attached.

For the large rootball too big or difficult to remove from the ground.

Dig all around the drip line and half or quarter the plant in the ground using a sharp spade or two garden forks inserted back to back and pull it apart. Once it is out of the ground, cut away any dead or empty center. Depending on the size, you may be able to divide each half or quarter again.

Replace old holes with compost.


  • Trim off any dead leaves and stems.
  • Cut away any dead or decaying old areas.
  • If you need to hold transplants out of the ground, store in buckets or bags with drainage. Cover roots with damp soil, newspaper or burlap and keep in a cool shaded area until ready to plant. Soak roots in water before planting.
  • Get them in the ground as soon as possible.
  • Separate each plant to account for mature plant spread.
  • Dig new holes wider than root spread so roots continue to grow out.
  • If weather is hot and dry; fill hole with water and let it drain. Plant immediately.
  • Plant at the same level it was growing before.
  • Water throughly without splashing on the stems or leaves.
  • Mulch to help conserve moisture. Take care not to mulch the crown or stems.
  • Keep well watered until established.

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