How to Divide Your Garden Plants

Besides coming back year after year,  I love that perennials expand in size to help fill out my garden.  If you’re new to gardening you might tend to shy away from perennials as their initial cost is more than annuals.  But not having to replant every year as you do with annuals make perennials more cost-effective in the long run. Over time, as the plant begins to spread out you might start noticing patches that aren’t flowering which is one of the signs that it’s time to divide the plant. 

Spring is the best time to divide plants that bloom after mid-June through the fall. Early spring bloomers should be divided in the fall. 

Dividing perennials benefit your plants and garden in a variety of ways: 

• Want more flowers on your plants?  By dividing overgrown plants you can rejuvenate the life in them.  When plants stop flowering in the center of a clump it can be due to dead space where the root system has become overcrowded and too woody to produce flowers.  A telltale sign is the dead space in the center of the plant looking like the hole of a donut. By dividing these plants you’re removing the old growth and giving new life to the plant.

• Another problem causing insufficient blooms may be due to soil nutrient depletion. This may also cause stunted growth and yellowish leaves. You may be able to get away with adding fertilizer to give the plant a boost, but digging the plant up, dividing it and amending the soil with good compost before replanting and/or moving it will really help. * Sometimes persistent weeds will invade your clump. The best approach to tackle this is to dig up the entire clump and divide it to help revive the plant. 

• By dividing out what you have you can spread them out or better yet start an entirely new bed without any extra cost. If you have more plants than you need, offer the extras to neighbors or others who you know enjoy gardening.   I’ve done this with plants that I no longer wanted in my garden and found wonderful new homes for them. I’ve also been gifted plants and have been able to add to my garden without needing to buy new plants. 

What To Divide in Spring?

Now is the best time to divide plants which flower in the summer and fall.  It’s not the best time to divide those plants which are already blooming. That’s not saying those plants flowering now will die, but they may take some time to come back and flourish. It’s best to wait at least until they are done flowering before you divide and replant them.

Primroses, for instance, can be dug up and divided into numerous pieces in late spring, giving them an entire season to recover before flowering again the following year.  Same thing with many of the spring-flowering rock garden plants, such as Rock Cress (Aubrieta), Basket-of-Gold (Aurinia) and Moss Phlox (Phlox subulata).

Sweet Alyssum I replanted last year. I can divide and share after it’s done blooming.Sweet Alyssum I replanted last year. I can divide and share after it’s done blooming.

Sweet Alyssum I replanted last year. I can divide and share after it’s done blooming.



Some Exceptions to Spring Dividing:

Peonies (fall only), Oriental Poppies (in July or August when they are dormant) and true Lilies (mid to late fall) can be temperamental and don’t do well with spring dividing.

Summer and fall-flowering perennials have the whole spring and early summer to recover from being divided, and most will give you an excellent flower display the same year.  Spring is the best time for dividing most ornamental grasses, and especially the fall-flowering types such as Maiden Grass (Miscanthus) and Fountain Grass (Pennisetum).

Traditionally, the time for dividing Bearded Iris is shortly after flowering, in July or early August.  But if you have stubborn clumps that refuse to flower, then you might as well go ahead and divide them in the spring, since they likely won’t bloom this year anyhow.


How to Divide

If you are new to this you may be a little nervous and unsure of what you’re doing but don’t let that stop you, this is normal and plants can be pretty forgiving!

They will recover quickly and be all the better for the experience.  I have been known to get carried away at times by dividing plants into pieces that are too small and the results are sometimes mixed — some pieces grow well, some die but there is usually a net gain so I consider it a success.

The basic steps of dividing are simple.  First, gather your tools & supplies:

A shovel – preferably a narrow spade to get in a tight space, a tarp or trash bag to lay the plants on after they’ve been dug up,  an old kitchen knife to cut through the roots, and your garden hose.

Now you’re ready to tackle the overgrown plants in your garden:

  1. Look for plants with an inch or two of new growth.

  2. Water the soil to help the roots from being shocked when removed.

  3. Dig up an entire clump and go deep & wide to get as much of the roots as possible.  A 4” perimeter is a good range to dig up.

  4. Hose off the roots to remove as much dirt as possible.

  5. Look at the roots for a good separation point to divide. Cut down from the top of the plant to the bottom.  If it’s a large clump to start with you might be able to cut again as you want to end up with about a fist size portion for replanting.  Each portion needs green shoots on the top along with a root system attached.

  6. The best and most vigorous pieces are usually those found towards the outside of the original clump.  The roots are less woody and can recover more quickly, giving you strong and healthy new plants. Discard old and woody roots from the middle (add them to the compost pile)

  7. When ready to replant be sure to plant at the same depth they were at before and give the new plant a good soaking of water.  Be sure to water the new plant regularly until it’s well established.

Don’t forget to remove all of the roots for any persistent weeds that have made a home in your plant.

Now it’s time to step back and enjoy the bounty of your garden as it fills the empty spaces in your garden or maybe your neighbor’s garden. 

If you’re new to gardening check out community facebook groups as they are a good source for free plants from other gardeners thinning out their plants.  I’ve added and shared many plants this way. Currently, I have an abundance of ferns and will happily share them with anyone looking for shade plants. They also work well in pots on a balcony or inside your home if you have a small space that doesn’t get a lot of bright sun.

See the new shoots popping up? I have lots of these I can share with anyone who has a shady space in their garden.See the new shoots popping up? I have lots of these I can share with anyone who has a shady space in their garden.

See the new shoots popping up? I have lots of these I can share with anyone who has a shady space in their garden.

I’m not a master gardener so I’m sure there’s more you can learn from other more experienced gardeners.  But what I have found over the last few years is playing in the dirt is just as much fun as it was when I was a kid.  I receive compliments all the time from neighbors walking by about my garden. It’s not perfect but it’s my space and I created it in a way that makes me happy.  I hope gardening can do the same for you in even a small way.

Hi, there!

I'm Nancy and I love helping homeowners who have outgrown their current home and are ready to buy a new home but don’t know where to start. Let me know how I can help you make your real estate dreams come true. 

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