Waco Bankston, Master Gardener LSU AgCenter Website Author: www.LearnToGarden.net “Conquer and Divide” Do you ever pass by a neighbor’s landscape and spot that plant that would make a perfect specimen in your own landscape? Well, if you’re like me it happens far too often when driving around the twin cities. I’ve even been known to stop by a total stranger’s home and ask to tour their property—and they present warm welcomes! Strange proposition, you ask? Not really--in my opinion it’s a good way to meet fellow gardeners and grow plants that I might not have otherwise had the opportunity to grow. It also offers your new friends the same opportunity. But what about transplanting a shared plant from that friendly neighbor’s garden to your garden, or the other way around—from your garden to theirs. The process is called asexual plant propagation by division. Simply put, it’s the process of dividing one large plant into multiple smaller, fully functional plants. Another way to “divide” or propagate plants are by vegetative cuttings often referred to as vegetative plant propagation. Air layering is another popular, but often overlooked method. However, in this column we’ll focus more on dividing perennial plants and flowers as now is the perfect time to do this here in Louisiana. Although I’ve had much success with dividing plants as late as July, typically one should do this in the cooler months to give the roots of these divided plants time to adjust to their new homes. Waiting until June or July causes unnecessary stress on the plants from our Louisiana heat and drought conditions and thus the reasoning for dividing during March and April. Also, at this time plants are usually producing some sort of green growth and as a result dividing is easier as the plants can be more readily identified in the garden. Take note, however, that the dividing or propagation approach will differ based on the type of plant. For instance, Iris plants are produced from what are called “rhizomes” or stems that grow horizontally on top or just below the soil. To divide these type plants such as an Iris one could employ the use of a shovel or pitch fork with the latter being the most appropriate tool for the job. For this example you would simply insert the fork about one foot from the base of the existing vegetation and gently work the fork up and down to free the rhizomes from the subsoil. These can be stored in a paper sack until ready to transplant into the new planting location. It really is very simple, so don’t let plant division intimidate you. Using a little common sense will provide for success. Plants are for the most part tough and will survive even the most horrible of what I casually refer to as “Shovel Accidents”. A plant’s main function in this world is to grow and reproduce, so a little misapplied shovel action shouldn’t be great cause for alarm. Dividing perennials for sharing or relocating in your own garden can be rewarding and yet inexpensive. Every other year I set out to do this in our garden. It’s the perfect opportunity to meet up with neighborhood friends and share plants. When I set out to divide plants I simply locate the plant clump in the garden beds and dig with a shovel down and below the root zone. I make a complete circle around the plant and gently lift the clump out. Another method is to use a sharp knife to cut through the plant’s roots. In either case, the goal is to divide the plant with as little trauma to the root zone as possible. After all, roots are one of the most critical plant parts—so treat them with care. In addition, I like to pre-prepare the new planting hole so that it’s ready to take on the new plant. Once this is complete I adjust the new hole’s depth so that the relocated plant is planted at the same depth at which it was originally growing. Finally, backfill the hole with the excavated soil and lightly tap the soil to remove any air pockets that might remain around the root zone. Water well and you’re done. Division in this way also allows sharing of plants with friends and family. In cases such as this when you’re not able to immediately replant the divided plant I recommend putting the plant inside a plastic bag with several paper towels soaked in water. I also soak the roots in water prior to placing in the bag. As long as you maintain the moisture level in the bag with the paper towels the plant should remain hydrated for several days. Dividing and propagating plants isn’t rocket science—it only requires one to venture outside and take a whack at it--literally. You will be surprised at the number of plants you can create in a short amount of time. On a final note I trust if you haven’t begun your garden clean-up, you will do so very soon. There isn’t much time between now and warm weather as spring is just around the corner. If you’re like me you’re probably on pins and needles waiting on that last frost date. Until next month—here’s to your success at spring cleanup, pruning and propagating! For gardening tips, video demonstrations, answers to your questions and more, please visit my informational website, www.LearnToGarden.net.