How and When to Separate Hostas and Other Perennials


In keeping with the recent theme of fall gardening projects, now is a good time to divide perennials if you haven’t done so in several years. Most flowering perennials benefit from being divided or thinned out to allow for more room for the roots to grow and better develop. This is a practice that should be done every three or four years, depending on the plant. If the plant flowers in the spring or summer, fall is the best time to divide them. Conversely, if the plant flowers in the fall, you should separate them in the spring.

Dividing Plants in the Fall

One good thing about dividing plants in the fall is that you usually have some time before you have to replant them. It is not like the spring when everything is beginning to send up new shoots and the roots are actively growing. The plants that I try to thin or divide in the fall are irises, hostas, daylilies, coneflowers and daisies. In all honesty, I have not split one bed of hostas for almost 10 years, so they are really crowded in their present location. I recently split my irises and daylilies, so they can go for a couple of more years.

If you plan to divide the plants, you have to be willing to dispose of the ones you don’t want unless you have a few friends who would like to add them to their garden. If you plan to thin the ones you have and relocate the extras to another location, it is better to have the new location prepared before starting the process. Be sure to choose an area where the plants will prosper. For example, hostas are shade-loving plants. If you transplant them into a spot with full direct sun during the day, they will turn brown next summer.

How to Divide Hostas

Digging up the hostas is not difficult, as long as the soil is somewhat moist. Since it’s been warmer than normal for late October/early November where I live, the hostas still look good. To dig them up, I use a pitch fork and pull them up in a clump. Don’t worry if you end up spearing a plant or two as hostas are very hardy and can withstand a good deal of abuse.

Once you have dug up a clump, shake off the soil from the roots and start pulling them apart into individual plants. You may need to use a good pair of clippers to divide multiple plants. I throw the separated plants into a big bucket or a burlap sack to make them easier to transplant.

Planting Divided Perennials

When I transplant my perennials, I usually will dig a large dish-shaped hole or a narrow trench in which to place the plants. Since my hostas still have leaves, I will cut them off before I place them into the soil. Arrange them so that the roots are spread out and are placed slightly higher than where they were planted originally. Backfill the plants with soil and water them in. I like to cover the plants with leaf mulch from mowing my leaves. I put the bagger attachment on my mower, run it across a part of my lawn to pick up the leaves and then dump the clipping s and ground up leaves over the newly transplanted plants.

The biggest challenge you will face when transplanting is having nice weather in which to do the work. Another challenge is having enough sunlight to get all the work done. It starts getting dark around 4:30 in the afternoon, so you have to work fast. The rewards of having new plants that didn’t really cost you anything except some sweat and sore muscles are well worth the time.

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