Our October skies brought lots of rain this year, which kept our fall gardens healthy and vigorous. However cold is coming and it’s time to split.
I wish I meant moving south or west to warmer climates for the winter, but I don’t. I’m referring to making more plants from the established ones in our Northeast gardens. Now is a good time to make our own beds bigger or share our abundance with friends.
Late fall is a great time to turn one plant into many. Just get it done several weeks before the ground freezes so that plants have time to settle in and establish roots before defending themselves against the winter elements. I prefer fall over spring for carving, since freshly wounded plants get more time to set up house before the heat and drought of summer strikes.
October and November are excellent months to dig and divide a multitude of plants, including Hosta, Heuchera (Coral Bells), Black-eyed Susan, Phlox, Echinacea, Papaveraceae (Poppy), Aster, Achillea (Yarrow), Sedum, Monarda (Bee balm), Bearded Iris and Peony. This article will explain how to chop Hosta and Heuchera.
My friend Jen graciously offered to divide her lovely Hosta and Heuchera garden. I conspicuously admired it at each previous visit, hoping the day would come that she would share. She recently went to war, with her shovel as chosen weapon, on a sunny October day, and I took home the spoils.
Both Hosta and Heuchera come in many different varieties. Lucky for us, they all cut up the same. Two methods work well; digging up the entire root ball and chopping into it equal parts or taking a ‘pie slice’ out of a plant still in the ground.
To carve up an entire Hosta or Heuchera, gently dig it up by placing your shovel several inches away from the plant stalks. Dig all the way around the plant. Try not to get impatient and raise the root ball, ripping the plant from its home, before you complete the entire circle. (Done it, often regretted it.) Lift the whole kit-and-caboodle out, retaining as much soil around the roots as possible. Once out of the ground, use a shovel for larger plants or a sharp knife for smaller ones and cut the plant into equal parts. Try to keep each section a decent size with a minimum of three healthy stalks.
These are tough plants. If you are of smaller stature, go ahead and place the shovel blade on top of the plant and jump on it with both feet. Just watch your balance and wear thick boots. My husband is a bit larger than I am and can accomplish the task with just one foot, the other firmly planted on the ground.
To create a new plant while leaving the existing plant “in situ,” carve a wedge, like a slice of pie, out of the back of the plant where it won’t show. As a guideline for size, slice as if serving someone with a large appetite, not a guest that says “just a sliver for me, please.” Back fill the host plant with soil to protect the fresh wound. Again, make sure to get at least 3 healthy stalks and dig down deeply. Surface sticks without a solid root system won’t grow.
Plant your little segments in the garden as soon as possible and water well. If a few days go by without rain before winter, continue to give them a good sprinkle. If the weather pattern continues to repeat what we have seen so far this fall, you can just tuck them in and forget them.
Next time we’ll detail dividing Bearded Iris and Peonies.