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How and when to divide perennials

Quick facts

  • Perennials are plants that grow back each year.
  • Dividing or splitting a single perennial into multiple plants helps the plant perform better.
  • When perennials are divided, there is more space for roots to grow and absorb nutrients and water.
  • Dividing perennials can help manage the size of the plant.
  • You will have more plants of the same kind to add to your garden when you divide a perennial.

Perennials grace our gardens year after year with their variety of brilliant colors and unique foliage forms.

After a few years in the garden, these perennials may start to produce smaller blooms, develop a 'bald spot' at the center of their crown, or require staking to prevent their stems from falling over. All of these are signs that it is time to divide.

Reduced plant performance may not be the only reason to divide perennials.

Why divide perennials?

Spring is a good time to divide and move perennials.

To rejuvenate the plant and stimulate new growth

Overcrowded plants compete for nutrients and water. Restricted airflow can lead to diseases.

Dividing the plants into smaller sections reduces this competition and stimulates new growth as well as more vigorous blooming.

To control the size of the plant

Since plants grow at varying rates, division may be used to keep plants that spread rapidly under control.

To increase the number of plants

Division is an easy and inexpensive way to increase the number of plants in your garden.

Guidelines for dividing perennials

Many perennials are easier to divide and transplant in spring.
  • Divide perennials on a cloudy, overcast day as dividing on a hot sunny day can cause the plants to dry out.
  • Water the soil a day in advance if the area to be worked on is dry. Ideally, divide plants when there are a couple days of showers in the forecast to provide enough moisture for the new transplants.

How to divide perennials

  1. Dig up the parent plant using a spade or fork.

  2. Gently lift the plant out of the ground and remove any loose dirt around the roots.

  3. Separate the plant into smaller divisions by any of these methods: 

    • Gently pull or tease the roots apart with your hands; 

    • Cut them with a sharp knife or spade; 

    • Or put two forks in the center of the clump, back to back, and pull the forks apart.

  4. Each division should have three to five vigorous shoots and a healthy supply of roots.

  5. Keep these divisions shaded and moist until they are replanted.

Divide hosta in spring before they get too large.

When to divide

Divide when the plant is not flowering so it can focus all of its energy on regenerating root and leaf tissue. 

Daylilies have a fleshy root. Use a sharp knife to divide them.

Divide fall blooming perennials in the spring because

  • New growth is emerging and it is easier to see what you are doing.
  • Smaller leaves and shoots will not suffer as much damage as full-grown leaves and stems.
  • Plants have stored up energy in their roots that will aid in their recovery.
  • Rain showers that generally come along with the early season are helpful.
  • Plants divided in spring have the entire growing season to recover before winter.

Divide spring and summer blooming perennials in the fall because

  • There is less gardening work to do in the fall compared with spring.
  • It is easy to locate the plants that need dividing.
  • Perennials with fleshy roots such as peonies (Paeonia spp.), Oriental poppy (Papaver orientale) and Siberian iris (Iris siberica) are best divided in the fall.
  • When dividing plants in the fall, time it for four to six weeks before the ground freezes for the plants roots to become established. This is particularly important in colder, northern climates.
Echinacea may reseed and produce young plants that bloom in their second year.

Dividing specific perennials

Download the PDF or bookmark the Dividing perennials spreadsheet to find information specific to 125 common perennials.

The plants are listed in alphabetical order by common name. Their scientific names are given in italics.  

You will find information on when to divide, how often to divide and other helpful tips.

Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator and Molly Furgeson

Reviewed in 2019

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