This past month I have coveted! Yes, there it is. In print. Admitted. And now I have a way to deal with my desire to have my friend’s clear magenta peony and another friend’s gorgeous sedum the color of eggplant that blooms in yellow. I’ll go to their houses with a trusty spade and I’ll divide them. After all, they are dear friends.
Dividing plants is perhaps the easiest way not only to tidy up an overgrown section of garden, but to share plants with others. It’s also an economical way to stretch dollars. Through division, I can increase my number of plants. It allows me to do more mass planting, a repetitive element that unifies a garden.
Probably the most important act in dividing a plant is making certain it is healthy and mature enough to have a vast and healthy root system, which usually takes a year or so. Sometimes there are early indicators that a plant needs dividing — such as when the center looks different from the outer edges, evidenced in smaller leaves or fewer flowers.
Usually dividing a plant is best done in the fall or spring, when rains are frequent and the soil is fairly moist and loose. Also, choose an overcast, cool day. Use a spade or a pitchfork, dig a little trench around the drip line and then dig down about a foot. Pull back on the spade or pitchfork to raise the plant up and out of the soil.
An old article from “Fine Gardening” by Todd Meier suggests that the right tool can make dividing plants so much easier; without that perfect tool, division can be more daunting.
After dividing the perennials, they should be planted fairly quickly so that they don’t lose too much water, resulting in wilting and finally death. Wrap them in paper towels or lay them in a bucket with moistened newspaper layered on top. If you have to wait some hours before planting, you can soak them in a bucket of water to hydrate them. After you dig a hole, add some compost/organic matter and water, stirring up a slurry before planting the divisions.
Water well the first week and then taper off. Another note about peonies is not to plant the eyes too deeply — just about 1 or 2 inches below the soil.
Use the best divisions to plant and spread out their roots. If some divisions look weak, just toss them away.
In an economy that has made all of us stop and think, we can find yet another way to save a few pennies. We also can have a spirit of generosity when we divide plants and offer them to friends. Or use them to plant along a roadside or near a mailbox.
So, maybe coveting isn’t all that bad.
Beverly Hoffman can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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