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Hamptons Life

Apr 23, 2018 11:24 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press

Divide, Conquer And Save Money!

A New York aster clump about 18 inches in diameter (note the brown stem stubs) is ready for division and relocation.   ANDREW MESSINGER
Apr 23, 2018 11:24 AM

There is a silver lining to this cold and wet spring of 2018: The weather’s been nearly perfect for the horticultural practice of division. It’s a method of plant propagation that allows you to multiply many of your perennials with little to no cost and just a few hours of labor.It looks like the weather will allow us to continue dividing for another two weeks or so. But you need to know what plants can be divided, how to physically do the divisions, and the easy after care.

Obviously, dividing a garden plant makes several from one. In the case of perennials, this can mean a huge financial savings, because if one perennial can be divided every three years, in that period of time that one plant, which may have cost $18 at a local garden center, can produce three offspring (divisions) that are free.

It’s a great way to expand your garden and your collection with little effort. It also ensures that the plant that’s divided will give you exact replicates of the original plant. Yes, basically it’s cloning.

Some legal issues, though.

When you bought that original echinacea or hosta, chances are it was a patented plant. Someone went to the trouble of breeding the parent plant that produced the one you bought, a clone. For that effort, the breeder may have been granted a plant patent, which gives him or her a legal right to compensation for any future progeny.

That adds to the initial expense (to you) of many of our modern plants—and it’s why an echinacea that’s a clone can cost twice as much as one grown from seed. On the other hand, the clone is in many ways a much more desirable plant due to its enhanced characteristics.

So, technically, when you go out into the garden and divide that expensive echinacea or hosta, you are in technical violation of the patent-holder’s rights. Now, while I’m not a legal expert on plant patents, I can tell you that I’ve never heard of a home gardener being prosecuted for patent violation when he or she does a limited amount of dividing for his or her own personal use.

But—and this is a big BUT—if you decide to sell any of those divisions instead of using them in your garden, you have crossed the line, become commercial, and then you become subject to the plant police. And, yes, these cases have been prosecuted.

But we don’t do that. We’re only doing divisions for our own personal gardens, and there’s a long list of plants in our garden that can be divided.

Hens and Chicks, or Sempervirens sp., is a succulent plant that is incredibly easy to divide by simply picking the “chicks” off from the “hen” and simply pressing them gently back into the soil, where they easily re-root.

Phlox subulata, or the creeping phlox, are easily divided with a spade just after they have finished flowering, and a tight parent clump of just a square foot can yield four new plants that are easily replanted, and by next spring they’ll be fully mature and blooming.

Among the most popular garden plants that can and should be regularly divided are the chrysanthemums. At this point in the growing season, the new foliage has emerged, and a sharp spade, trowel or even a small bulb planter can be used to divide the parent mum clump into a number of smaller clumps that can be moved to other garden spots, or the practice can simply be used to open up an older clump allowing it to rejuvenate.

The same is true of asters, but aster roots can be a bit more tenacious. A trowel may not work on this plant, but a spade certainly will.

Primulas are easily divided and it can often be done with a long, sharp knife. Once the plants have flowered, bend down and look at the crown of the plant. In most cases, you’ll see a mass of leaves emanating from a crown, but on closer observation you’ll note that the crown has some natural divisions, or openings, in the crown that make it seem like there are actually separate but connected portions of the plant.

Push your knife straight into the crown to sever this plant portion, and when you lift it from the ground, you’ll probably find that it’s easily extracted with its own roots. Replant the division immediately, either in a new location or expand the planting that it’s come from.

Now, before I get into some of the other plants that this practice of division can be done with, there are some rules. And, yes, rules are made to be broken, but if you’re just starting out in division, there are rules for a reason.

First, always try to do your divisions on a cloudy day. Even better, do the work on a cloudy day when rain or at least clouds are forecast for the following day. Remember, you are not just dividing a plant, you are also severing it from the rest of the plant that was supplying it with moisture from the whole plant’s root system. The division needs a few days to a week to acclimate, and if the work is done on a sunny day, or if the following day is bright and windy, your successes may be limited.

Replant your divisions as quickly as you can. I like to divide and replant within 10 minutes or so, but as you get more comfortable doing this, you’ll find that some plants can be held longer. When replanting, plant in a similar soil that has been well loosened, and never plant deeper than the depth of the original plant.

Install the plant gently, and don’t overly firm it in. You can water lightly, but don’t drown the poor thing, and give the transplants a few days to a week of TLC. And NO FERTILIZER!

If you want a plant to practice on, there is no better or easier plant to divide than the daylily, or Hemerocallis. A 1-square-foot clump of a tightly grown daylily can give you a dozen or more good divisions.

Simply dig the parent clump and, using a spade or machete, divide the clump from top to bottom. I think you’ll find that the easiest way to do this is to use a shovel to dig straight down and encircle the clump. Then, use a narrow spade and force it down into the clump, and make your divisions.

Lift the new sections, replant, water, and they’ll take off in no time. Dividing this plant can be a big confidence builder, because it’s easy and indestructible.

Hostas are also easy to divide and, pretty much in the same way as the Hemerocalllis, tough. A 1-square-foot hosta will only yield about four good divisions.

Lamium can be divided as well, but here you need large sections dug and moved due to the loose stem and rooting nature of the plants.

Perennial hibiscus can be divided, but they stay dormant pretty late, so look for last year’s stem stubs, dig a circle with a shovel about 6 to 8 inches away from the outermost stubs, lift the root mass, and divide it. You’ll find the root mass very different from other perennials and nearly woody with thick roots.

Ornamental grasses also are easily divided by digging sections or by uprooting an entire clump and dividing the clump.

The most challenging plant to divide may well be the Amsonia, especially the species tabermontana. This plant forms a clump or crown that is nearly as hard as nails, and I remember having to use a long tree saw to quarter the crown once it had been liberated from the ground.

This plant may be best done in the fall, though it can be successfully done in the spring with some minor loss of flowers during the spring bloom.

Lots of opportunity here to divide, conquer and save lots and lots of money. But time is running out—so if you’re new to it, practice on those daylilies; if you’ve got some experience, go forth and divide.

Keep growing!

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