Home Gardening Tips: Caring For Perennial Bulbs

When and how to divide perennials bulbs to ensure a beautiful floral landscape for your home garden.

As spring begins to "spring", many bulbs and perennials go full speed ahead, pushing their way through the dirt with all their might to sunbathe for awhile and regale you with their glory.

Early spring is the perfect time to multiply--by division--your portion of paradise. Here's how.


If you noticed some of your bulbs or perennials came up last year but they didn't bloom well, now that you think about it, did they look like they were too crowded? Or maybe a plant had a bare spot in the center of a dense clump? These plants probably need to be "lifted" and "divided."

Another sign of overgrowth is "heaving," or the plant's becoming so prolifically rooted and large that the soil literally can't contain it any more. Then it begins to grow into a little mound, or "heave," out of the garden ground. (Another cause of heaving is hard freezing which contracts and expands the ground, causing some plants to be pushed up.)

Division must be done with many bulbs and perennials every three years or so (some more, some less, depending on the plant) for the plant's health. The closest analogy I can think of is a Persian cat--if you don't clip out the mats in the poor kitty's coat from time to time, the mats can actually take over and cause damage. In the case of a flower, overgrowth can crowd out and smother the plant altogether.


To lift a plant, just shovel it carefully out of the ground. Go deep; give it a wide berth. Just give it some room--you don't want to destroy the roots or the new shoots around its perimeter.

Once it's out of the ground, shake the excess soil from the roots so you can see what you're working with. Your next task will be to separate it, or divide it, into smaller plants rather than one massive clump.

Rhizomes, bulblets and perennials really are quite forgiving, so don't be afraid to use a bit of force. You might even need a sharp knife (for a clean surgical cut) in the event that gentle twisting or forking doesn't work to break the plants apart easily enough. Worst comes to worst, you might have to hack apart an especially stubborn clump. The chances are good to excellent it will recover and do better than it did before the division.

As you are digging and dividing, discard any parts that look suspect--rotted, foul-smelling, black or pitted bulbs, for example. Throw them out, don't compost them.

As soon as you've done the division, replant your new goodies to the same depth they were before, giving them lots of space. And voila--you have lots of new flowers, free of charge!

For the most successful division results, here are a few things to keep in mind:

* Ideally, the division should have more root than shoot.

* Divide plants into good-sized, somewhat mature portions so they have a healthy start.

* Under no circumstances allow the exposed roots of lifted plants to dry out. If you can't plant the divisions right away, put them into some moist peat or soil mix in your garden cart or a box, and plant them as soon as you can.

* While you're at it, it's a good time to fork-in some compost and such into the soil if you think the plants need a booster shot. Just loosen the soil, add whatever you're going to add, and stir it together a little with a garden fork, like stirring the dry ingredients of something you're baking.

* Keep the divisions moist and, if possible, sheltered until they're established.

Another neat thing to do with your divisions is give them to your friends and neighbors. What wonderful gifts for weddings, births, housewarmings and other occasions. You could also host a neighborhood plant swap and catch up on all the news, once everyone gets outside to revel in the pretty weather after huddling inside all winter.


Spacing your divisions is good for them; it gives them room to grow.

When planning or maintaining your gardens, always remember to keep space between plants. If you don't have a good air flow, your plants will probably be missing out on light. Furthermore, without good air flow you risk harboring rot, powdery mildew, fungus and other disorders.

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