Divide plants to create new plants for family and friends

By Sarah Buchanan. First published by Rattan Direct on 30 September 2016.

Free plants are a bit of a thing of mine. You know – you have read my blogs before! Here’s how to divide plants in your garden to create new ones. You could swap them with plants from neighbours and family, or plant them in new places in your garden.

Autumn to spring, and when the soil is not too wet, is the time to divide herbaceous perennials which grow in clumps and which flower in spring or summer. Doing this every three or four years helps keep the plant healthy and vigorous. And you can do it more often to create new plants.

What is a herbaceous perennial?

Perennial plants are plants which go on and on. Unlike annuals which last one year; and biennials which grow in one year, flower the next and then die. Herbaceous perennials are plants such as geraniums (not pelargoniums), asters or Michaelmas daisies, euphorbia and primroses.

divide plants
This geranium is ideal to divide into two or even three good-sized plants. For free! Sarah Buchanan

What tools do I need to divide plants?

Before you start, check out which plants look overcrowded, or are outgrowing the space where you want them and decide which plants you want to create more of.

Then, you will need:

  • two garden forks (read on to find out why two)
  • a spade or sharp lawn edging tool
  • good garden compost or soil to fill in the gaps you make
  • pots for your new plants if you are giving them away
  • water to settle both the new plants in their new home and the old one where it is.

How do I divide plants?

For small plants, such as heuchera and epimedium, push a garden fork gently under the centre of the plant and ease it up. Shake off the soil so you can see the roots.  Pull clumps of plant growth at the edge of the plant away – these are your new plants. Put the main plant back into the soil, fill in around it with good garden compost, firm the soil and ensure the plant is stable, and water well.

divide plants
Divide epimediums by lifting the plant gently and pulling clumps of new plants away. Sarah Buchanan

Larger plants need more action. Insert two forks back to back into the centre of the plant. Push the handle of each fork out toward the edge of the plant, so that you split the plant in two. Put one section back where it was growing, filling in the space you made with good garden compost, firm that down and water well. Plant your new plant where you want it and water it well.

Plants with woody centres (such as hellebore) or fleshy roots (such as delphinium) need to be cut in two (or more) sections. Press a sharp spade or lawn edging tool into the centre of the plant and firmly down through the plant and its roots. Insert a garden fork at the edge of the plant and ease one section up and away from the other. Fill in the space you have made with good garden compost, firm the plant in and water well. Plant your new plant where you want it to grow with good garden compost and water.

You can’t go wrong!

If in doubt, watch this Gardeners’ World video or follow the step-by-step guide in the RHS advice notes.

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