Have You Shared Any Good Plants Lately?

Barbara Brand
Adams County Master Gardener

Perhaps the greatest pleasure gardeners have is sharing the treasures of their gardens with others -- and the second greatest pleasure is adding treasured plants from other gardens to their own.

In my own garden, I remember when and from whom I received many of the loveliest plants. The Fringed Bleeding Heart and Lady's Mantle came from Betty; the Lenten Rose and Turk's Head Lily are from Linda's garden; the Wild Ginger is from Martha (who got it from her father's garden); and the Shasta Daisies and Garden Phlox are doubly precious, as they were given to me by my mother, who died last year. All of these and other plants that were once part of my friends' and family's gardens are now some of the favorites in mine.

So, have you shared any good plants lately?

It isn't as tricky as it might seem, especially when you realize that most perennials are very resilient, and can take a bit of abuse in the dividing and transplanting process. Following a few general principles, you can experience the delight of giving and receiving plants that add variety and beauty to your and your friends' gardens.

This article will focus on perennials, and will help you feel more confident about digging into your precious plants and pulling them apart. Shrubs and houseplants, bulbs (daffodils) and rhizomes (irises), and late blooming plants such as peonies, are also good candidates for sharing with others, but require different timing and techniques. I'll include here some of the ways I will be dividing several of my favorite perennial plants in the coming weeks.

When you decide that it's time to divide your perennials to give them more room to grow, make your list in early spring, and be prepared to begin dividing after new growth begins to appear. Since some perennials will self-seed, this is when you will notice some tiny new plants appearing near the parent plant. Other perennials will spread out from the roots, or form large clumps, and begin to crowd into other plants' space.

Make sure that before you begin dividing you have clean tools: a shovel (large for some plants, small for most others), a garden fork (with flat tines and a long handle - this is not your hand cultivator, which has curved tines), a wide-blade trowel, and large knife are all helpful, and need to be sharp. Gather clean pots of several different sizes for repotting your plants, and good quality potting soil. A slow release fertilizer is helpful, especially if it isn't included in the potting soil. You may want to have plastic grocery bags handy, in case your specimens are going to be replanted fairly quickly.

Most perennials are very easy to divide. Using a shovel, carefully dig around the plant, leaving plenty of space for the root system to be lifted out. You can gently (but firmly) divide the plant by hand (trying to keep root damage to a minimum), or use a garden fork to pry the plant apart. If you want to replant your parent plant, immediately fill the hole with water and replant, applying fertilizer with the water, or spreading granular fertilizer on the soil. You might want to further divide your remaining plant segment before putting into pots with good quality potting soil.

If the clumps are very dense, or the root system is large, then cut into the plant with your shovel or sharp knife and remove only part of it, leaving the mother plant intact in the soil. You will need to add more soil to cover the exposed roots, and be sure to water immediately and fertilize.

Some perennials don't like to be divided, and you will think that you killed it when you took it out of the ground for repotting or transplanting. While some plants won't recover from the shock, do not despair! For the most part a little care, careful watering and fertilizing will soon result in new growth. So, before you share your plants with others, it would be a good idea to wait and see how the new plants progress.

Here are some of the specific plants that I will be dividing within the next few weeks.

I have a Fringed Bleeding Heart, a low-growing, lovely and delicate plant that likes partial shade, blooms all summer and self-seeds fairly regularly. Unlike the old-fashioned Bleeding Heart with its larger leaves and blossoms, this is classified as a ground-cover. If you don't want to keep the "plantlets" that can appear around your parent plant, then these can be easily lifted out of the soil with your trowel and repotted with good quality potting soil. Some other plants in my garden that are self-seeders are: Rudbeckia (Black-Eyed Susan), and Echinacea (Coneflower).

I have noticed that my clump of blue Siberian Iris is spreading in a circular pattern with a hole in the center of the plant. Since this plant was divided about 3 years ago, this means that it's time to divide it again. Although it's usually recommended to divide irises in the fall, I have had no difficulty doing this in spring. The transplanted iris will probably not produce blooms this year, but will settle in and produce blooms next year. Like other clumping plants, the way to divide this plant is to use a garden fork to separate the clump into two or three sections, one to keep and the rest to subdivide and share.

I also have Liriope (lilyturf) planted beneath a shade tree on our patio. It has bright green foliage, delicate lavender flowers on stalks in late summer, and black berries in late fall. This is a plant that can develop into very dense clumps that are difficult to divide, especially when left untouched for several years. It is similar to ornamental grass, so a few weeks ago; I cut this plant back to about 3 inches. Now it is showing new growth. Usually a sharpened shovel will suffice to divide it, but you might need to take a heavy, sharp knife and cut directly into the plant. While that might seem a savage technique, the Larimore will easily recover - just make sure you add new soil to cover the roots of the parent plant. The section you remove can be gently pulled apart into smaller clumps and repotted.

Yarrow is a more delicate plant that doesn't respond well to division, in my experience, but that also doesn't stop me from doing it anyway. I love this plant, as it has a wonderful deep yellow flower for drying in late summer. But, when divided, I know that it will wilt and look pitiful after I repot it. I also know that most of the time it perks up and sends up new growth in a week or two if I keep the faith.

Lunaria, also known as Money Plant, is a biennial, which means that it blooms every other year. It is also a prolific self-seeder, which means that if you want to keep it in order, you should transplant yearly. In this case, the Lunaria I will be removing and repotting will be the "off" year plants that will not be as vulnerable to the shock of transplanting. Next year, the plants will produce beautiful deep purple blossoms that in turn will produce silvery seed pods in the fall that look like half-dollar sized coins - hence the common name.

When you share your plants with friends and family, you will find great pleasure in watching your "plant children" growing and thriving in other gardens.

Read other articles on plants and gardens

Read other articles by Barbara Brand