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Plant division shares bounty

Splitting perennials controls garden, too

May 6, 2012
By EMILIE NELSON, Messenger staff writer , Messenger News

While many gardeners are thinking about getting their gardens ready for the summer growing and blooming seasons, spring is also a good time to prepare for fall blooms that will keep a garden colorful well into October.

Spring is the best for perennials such as tulips, daffodils and peonies to bloom, but it is also a good time to work with late summer fall and flowers such as asters, chrysanthemums and garden phlox to ensure they will be ready and well-rooted when their season arrives.

Plant division of perennials is a good way to help a garden grow while also keeping certain species of plants from taking over, Yvonne McCormick, an Iowa State University Extension horticulturist, said.

Article Photos

-Messenger photo by Emilie Nelson
Master gardener Marilyn Peterson-Shipp looks through her garden for the next perennial she can divide and share for the Fort Dodge Federated Garden Club’s plant swap and plant sale. Peterson-Shipp divides perennials each spring to share and to keep certain plant species from taking over the garden space.

"Division helps rejuvenate perennials and helps increase the number of plants," she said. "And it helps prevent the spread of disease."

Marilyn Peterson-Shipp, a master gardener and president of the Fort Dodge Federated Garden Club, divides perennials each spring in her large backyard garden.

"You want to divide when you can or they get too crowded," Peterson-Shipp said.

Peterson-Shipp said this spring was a little more of a challenge when it came to dividing her perennials.

"Everything grew and bloomed so fast," she said.

One of the easiest plants to divide and share is the daylily because it grows well and is easy to cut back.

"They're some of my favorites," Peterson-Shipp said.

It's often best to divide perennials opposite of their prime growing season, McCormick said.

"If they bloom in the spring, divide in the fall," she said. "If they bloom in the fall, divide them in the spring."

Perennials need time for new roots to establish, McCormick said.

"Spring plants should be done in late summer to early fall," she said. "The roots need to be established in time for winter."

McCormick also recommends mulching around divided plants once they have been placed in the ground.

"Mulching adds organic matter," she said. "It also prevents soil temperature fluctuation and conserves moisture."

For Peterson-Shipp, plant division depends on what she chooses to share each year.

"Sometimes I just dig when the spade is sharp," she said.

When dividing plants with bulbs, McCormick said it is best to remove the dead centers to allow the new roots to grow. Soil should be lightly packed around the bulbs leaving room for 1 to 2 inches of water.

"Don't leave any air space," said McCormick. "Keep loose, light soil."

Once plants have been divided, not all will see new blooms right away.

Be patient, McCormick advises. "Sometimes it can take a full year."

Contact Emilie Nelson at (515) 573-2141 or



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