Caring for Your Perennials in the Spring – Give Them Space!

How to Divide Your Perennials

While humans wake each morning and check the weather to see what to wear, Mother Nature’s rugged Perennials greet each day dressed for whatever the weather brings.

This benefit allows perennial gardens to exhibit blooms and colorful foliage throughout the year when other plants are dying-out due to extreme temperature changes.

After the leaves fall from deciduous trees and blooming annuals vanish from the landscape, perennials continue their work to brighten individual gardens and colorful mountain views.

Perennials enjoy a greater sense of independence more than annuals, due to these life-sustaining abilities.

There are occasions however when they cry out for help…

 “Give Me Some Space!”


Having plenty of time to multiply during a continuous growth cycle, usually about every two to three years, perennials plants can become crowded and struggle to compete with each other for water and soil nutrients.

Perennials  differ in the growth periods it takes before overcrowding is a problem and so you need to learn when there is a need to divide your plants.

Evidence of overcrowding is visible as foliage begins to yellow and the amount of blooms begins to decrease.

Along with periodic dividing, a little light mulching and sound nutrient management, your perennials will thrive for many years.

And as any southern gardener knows they are also a great source of propagating new plants for other areas in your yard or wonderful to give as gifts.

So, if you want to discover the best ways to properly divide your perennials and keep them strong and healthy then read more of this article.

Which popular perennials require division?

According to Burpee, a well-known seed distributor, dividing plants may seem primitive, but it helps to control the plant’s size, peps them-up the plants and creates more plants.

As a rule of thumb, most plants do well when division is done in the spring.  If done in the fall, however, about four weeks of growth should be allowed before the first winter freeze.

Another helpful hint when dividing plants is to moisten the soil before you remove the plants from the soil bed.  This helps to divide plants as well as protects the roots from drying out as you transplant them to a new bed or return them back into the same area.


Daylilies are very popular here in North Carolina and just about every other state as well.  They can grow in almost any type of soil and are considered low maintenance.

However, to keep beautiful looking flower beds, dividing plants on a recurring basis is necessary.  These plants can be divided in clumps and re-planted after their blooming season.




Shasta daisies are one of the most popular garden flowers used for adding color to gardens and make great cut flowers for summer parties.  When daisy beds look crowded it is a sure sign that dividing is necessary to allow plants to produce blooms again.

Perennials are pretty tough and do not feel abused as you are handling them, so, no need to stress out about harming the plants.

The most important thing to understand about the plant when division takes place is the type of root system and how best to make the separation according to root types.

Types of Root Systems

Thick Roots belong to large plants and take more force to break them apart.  It is best to discard the older parts of the center if they are weakened.



Spreading Roots have matted roots which are easy to pull apart by hand.  They include asters, bee balm, purple cornflowers and many other common perennials.

Clumping Roots originate from a central clump with multiple stems growing away from the central source.  It may require a sharp knife to separate the crown roots.  This group includes hostas, daylilies and many ornamental grasses.


Rhizomes belong to bearded irises which are highly popular.  Rhizomes grow horizontally at or above the soil level.  Rhizomes can be cut or trimmed to eliminate disease or insect damage.  It is better to discard any that are severely damaged.





Tuberous Roots are those seen in Dahlias.  Areas with hard freezes can cause losses if your dahlia tubers are left in the ground; if soil is not well-drained and tubers are left they can also increase in size and become large clumps, sending out more shoots which weakens stems and decreases flower size.  Digging and dividing allows protection from these elements.





Most ornamental grasses are perennials.  Grasses have clumping or spreading root systems.  Most grasses need dividing every 3 to 4 years.  If not divided periodically they tend to die out in the center.

Clumping grasses spread rapidly by aboveground or underground stems.  If not controlled through division, they can become invasive.

Perennials Which Do Not Need Dividing

There are some plants which do not require dividing as they produce seedlings growing out from around the main stem.  Seedlings can be used to increase plants and health can be maintained for the plant by way of pruning and feeding.





Some of these popular plants include butterfly weed (Asclepias), oriental poppies, baby’s breath (Gypsophila), gas plant (Dictamnus albus), Japanese anemones, false indigo (Baptisia) and columbines (Aquilegia).

Some of these plants have taproots which are vertical and deep growing roots.  Poppies and thistle, for example, do not do well when moving the taproot. 

Plants that have tap roots can be replanted if removed but need to be kept watered well until the plant re-establishes in the new location.

Some plants can be difficult to move when they are several years old, such as the Lenten and Christmas roses (Helleborus).



Lavender cotton (Santolina chamaecyparrus) and several other perennials should not be divided.  A few would include candytuft, rosemary and southernwood.  These may have branches with developed roots touching the soil and can be cut from the parent root and replanted as a division.


So while perennials are usually considered carefree plants they can become overcrowded and neglected.  But when cared for properly, they bring long-lasting beauty to your landscape.

However as you might have guessed dividing thick, woody patches or large clumps may involve using a shovel and doing a lot of tough digging.

If you are too busy, don’t have the energy or just want the beauty of a perennial flower garden – without the work, then we suggest that you hire an expert.

With the help and advice of a professional landscape company – who can to do all the design work, install new plants plus create a proper plant care program – your perennials will thrive for years and add their long-lasting colors to any outdoor living space or garden.

If you would like some help with caring for and dividing up your perennials, we invite you to call us (828) 734-8643 or contact us here.