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To renew, to restrict, to's time to divide perennials.

To renew, to restrict, to multiply . . . now's time to divide perennials

There are several benefits to digging and dividing overgrown perennials this month. Many of them, including Japanese anemones, Shasta daisies, and bee balm, can become invasive weeds, spreading into unwanted areas and overpowering the design of a flower bed. Dividing the plants when needed helps keep them in bounds.

Some, such as agapanthus and dianthus, become open and woody in the center after several years, as outer branches extend into surrounding new soil. Others, such as daylilies, slow their growth and produce smaller and fewer flowers when overcrowded. A few, such as Shasta daisies and yarrow, can increase so fast they may need dividing every year. Making divisions restores plant vigor and an attractive habit. Some nonspreading perennials, such as baby's breath, Christmas rose, and sea holly, are best left undivided.

One of the most rewarding reasons for dividing perennials is that you can turn one plant into many, to use in other areas of the garden. Before you start, know where you want to replant the divisions; prepare the soil and work a complete fertilizer into the planting bed.

Dividing perennials in fall gives divisions plenty of time to become established before the next growing season begins. In coldest areas, wait until spring.

First, dig up the whole plant

Use a spade or shovel to cut around the rootball. Undercut the bottom, then sever any remaining roots by prying up the entire rootball. Digging will be easiest if you water the plant thoroughly several days before.

Pry large rootballs apart with two pitchforks placed back to back as shown in the photographs above. You can also slice them into pieces with a spade, but you'll probably damage more of the plant. Pull smaller rootballs apart by hand or cut into pieces with a dull knife. Continue dividing until you have the desired number of plants.

After dividing the rootball, partially cut back the foliage to compensate for the root loss.

Photo: Pry apart large rootballs of perennials, such as the daylily at left, by placing pitchforks back to back and forcing roots apart. They pull apart with minimal tearing
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Copyright 1986 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Oct 1, 1986
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