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Why and How to Divide Perennials

Looking for ways to grow a happy, healthy garden without breaking the bank? Learn how to divide perennials in 5 easy steps.

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What are Perennials?

Perennials are plants that grow back every year.

To understand the difference between perennials vs annuals and learn how to use them in the garden, CLICK HERE.

Can You Split All Perennials?

In general, most perennials can be divided.

However, there are some varieties that don’t love being divided such as dicentra (bleeding hearts), echinops (globe thistle), and paeonia (peonies).

How Dividing Perennials Has Grown My Garden

My home started with a few plants when we first moved here.

One of the reasons I have so many gardens is because I divided plants and created new beds.

My gardens started with one small flower garden and grew to well over ten more.

Fast forward 23 years and now I have expansive gardens throughout the property.

What I love most is that I divided easy-care plants that didn’t need a lot of coddling from me to grow and thrive.

perennials vs annuals
My cottage garden in early spring.

Why Dividing Perennials is Important

Dividing perennials is a great way to keep the garden looking good and share the bounty with others.

There are several reasons why we need to divide perennials every few years.

Plant Health and Overall Size

For starters, dividing perennials keeps plants growing and healthy while maintaining the overall size.

And…you get more plants!

happy gardening with climbing roses and an obelisk

As perennials mature, they start growing in larger clumps that start to separate.

Sometimes these clumps form a hole in the middle of the plant.

When that natural division forms, it is time to divide the plant.

happy gardening in the backyard garden

Here’s a really good example of a plant that needs to be divided.

This Sedum ‘Autumn Joy” needs to be divided. This is one plant but looks like five.

So the plant is letting me know it needs to be divided.

Dividing Perennials

Overcrowding

Moreover, as perennials grow they start overcrowding themselves as well as neighboring garden plants.

Overcrowding leads to fewer or smaller blooms due to receiving fewer nutrients, light, and air circulation.

Therefore, dividing more vigorous plants keeps them in check so they don’t take over the garden and crowd out other varieties.

dividing perennials

Budget-Friendly Gardening

Finally, dividing perennials saves a lot of money because it multiplies the stock and one plant can be divided into several.

This means gardeners have more plants to enjoy in their own gardens or their divisions can be shared with others.

As much as I love to create more gardens in my yard, I love sharing my plants with others.

It is so fun to see how they grow in my friends’ gardens and even more fun to receive new plants or varieties that I didn’t already have from others.

cutting garden in my gardening zone 6a backyard border
The shed garden was mostly planted entirely from divisions from my garden.

When to Divide Perennials

NOTE: I live in New Jersey so my perspective is based on the climate here in New Jersey. Please check with your local cooperative extension if your climate and hardiness zone is different as timing may or may not differ.

In general, dividing perennials should be done in spring or fall when the temps and weather are most seasonable.

It is better and easier to transplant divisions while plants are small or as they begin to go dormant.

I highly recommend avoiding summer divisions and transplants. While it can be done, the success rate is very low.

dividing perennials

Most of my gardens were started with plant divisions.

Since New Jersey weather is more seasonable during early spring or mid-late fall, I divide and transplant my perennials at that time.

I prefer to do it when I don’t have to coddle transplants through the re-acclimation process.

For me, it’s much easier than doing it in late spring through early fall when the weather is hot and humid.

How to Save Money at the Garden Nursery

This is not to say it can’t be done from late spring through early fall because it can.

However, for me, it is much more work to establish transplants as the temps, heat, and humidity soar.

Since I prefer less work and maintenance to establish divisions, I divide in early spring or mid-late fall.

cut flower garden in nj in late summer
Most of this garden was started from perennial divisions.

I also like to divide perennials in early spring when they are smaller in size. It is easier and less damaging when you work with younger plants.

However, if I don’t get a chance to divide in early spring, I’ll wait until the plants start to go dormant in mid-late fall when I don’t care what the plant looks like after I divide and transplant it.

Another benefit to waiting until mid-late fall is that plants have more time to grow stronger root systems from fall through early spring.

9 ways to prepare the garden for winter

How to Divide Perennials

  • Depending on the size of perennials, you’ll either need a trowel or spade shovel to divide perennials.
  • Look at the plant and determine where the natural lines of division are.
  • Start with an outer edge of the plant. Dig the shovel underneath the plants and avoid slicing the roots as much as possible. Some plants will lift out very easily with one simple dig and use of your hands. Others will require more effort where you will need to dig around the entire section of the plant.
  • Don’t worry about injuring plants during this process. They will regenerate, bounce back, and appreciate the effort you put in.
  • Once the divisions are out, transplant them as soon as possible.
early summer Jersey garden tour

Doesn’t that sound easy to do?

Some plants are much tougher to divide than others.

But it is well worth the effort.

Shade Garden in the back border
These hostas, bee balm, and joe pye weed are all divisions of plants from other areas of my garden.

Want to Start a Flower Garden But Aren’t Sure Where to Begin?

There has never been a better time to start a garden than now.

Whether you are starting from scratch or dividing perennials to move to a new bed, starting a garden is fairly simple.

Click here to learn how to start a new garden.

And if you want to start a garden the easy way, you want to try this.

If you live in deer country like me, follow these tips to deer-proof your gardens.

Sedum Autumn Joy are great late blooming summer flowers

Want to Learn What to Plant for an Everblooming Colorful Garden?

Click here to get my FREE Must-Have Plant List!

Be the plant parent you’ve always wanted to be with these tried and true flowers that will give you a beautiful garden that’s always in bloom.

5 Ways to Grow a Cottage Garden

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Why and How to Divide Perennials

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8 Comments

  1. Thanks for sharing – this is so helpful to know! I am trying to start a new garden area on a tight budget. Do you know if limelight hydrangeas will be okay to divide? I think I have a baby plant next to my big limelight and am thinking of trying to move it. Thanks for your help and for sharing your tips!

    1. Hey Kim!!! I’m so glad you think so! I would try it! I divided an everblooming variety in spring and its doing really well! Now is a great time to do it with the temps cooling down before winter. I don’t think I can link it here in the comments but check out my post how to divide hydrangeas – I detailed everything that I did. Let me know how it does! xoxo

  2. There are times that I miss living in the north, where the soil is naturally healthier than the red Georgia clay we have in the south! I have to take a pick axe to even break ground! >(

    1. Clay soil stinks! Have you been trying to rehab it? My soil here is very rocky which has been tough to dig in. xo

  3. Great info. I can’t wait to get my hands back in the dirt. We are still having frost in the morning, so I have to wait a bit longer. Your garden looks gorgeous.
    Blessings to you.

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