Master Gardener - Dividing perennials multiplies landscape plantings

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2014 at 05:05 PM.

Experienced gardeners know that plants are pretty tough. So when it’s time to divide your perennials, be brave.  All you need to do is sink your shovel in the ground, loosen the soil deeply around the perimeter and grab the plant. It’s going to be fine.  

To move a perennial with minimal root damage, begin digging several inches beyond the outer edge of the clump.  The roots will generally extend that far, so digging further out allows you to lift the plant with as many roots intact as possible.  Dig a trench around the clump, cleanly severing any long roots, then cut at an angle down and under the clump from various points around the outer edge until you can lever the plant out of the hole.  For large plants you may have to first dig a trench, then slice straight down through the center of the plant as if it was a piece of pie, halving or quartering the clump before undercutting and lifting.  

It is always best to divide perennials on a cloudy day. Aim to divide plants so the new pieces are 20 to 25 percent the size of the original clump. Protect divisions from drying out by covering them with a damp piece of burlap or placing them in the shade immediately after digging. Never leave them exposed in the hot sun. Plant divisions as soon after digging as possible. If you cannot plant the new divisions immediately, pot them up in containers of potting soil or temporarily heal them in somewhere in the garden.

Before replanting, take the time to improve the soil. If you remove a wheelbarrow full of perennials, then a wheelbarrow full of compost should be added back into the site before replanting. This will renew the soil and build the site back up to ground level.  When the soil is ready, dig a hole that is at least as wide as the division’s roots when spread out. Place the division in the hole and cover with soil so it is planted at approximately the same depth the original clump was growing. Water new plantings thoroughly and apply a two inch layer of mulch. Keep in mind that spring divided perennials often bloom a little later than usual the year they are divided. 

Learn more

If you have questions about lawn and garden care, visit where you can submit questions via the ‘Ask an Expert’ link, or contact your local Cooperative Extension center by phone: in Pender County, call 910-259-1238; in New Hanover County, call 910-798-7660; in Brunswick County call 910-253-2610.


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