- Grove City, Pennsylvania

November 5, 2011

Divide and conquer plants before ground freezes

By T.C. Conner/The Write Gardener
Allied News

GROVE CITY — "Divide and conquer!" That phrase is attributed to Phillip II, King of Macedon (382 - 336 BC ), and it refers to a strategy in politics that's based on the fact that many smaller opponents are easier to manage than one larger one.

At that time the Greek city-states were becoming more powerful and threatening his rulership, King Phillip felt threatened and dividing and conquering those alliances made things a bit easier to manage. 

That strategy also applies to a gardening practice that you might want to implement now before the ground freezes.

Daylilies and irises come immediately to mind for fall dividing and conquering. Other perennials to consider include hosta, shasta daisies, and rudbeckia.

If you're wondering whether you should or shouldn't, allow your plants to help you make the decision.

If you notice the following symptoms it may be time to divide and conquer: reduction in flowering, center growth dying out, plants that seem to lose vigor, flopping stems and stalks, plants that need constant staking.

All of these are signals that indicate a plant's need for attention, you might also notice that something just seems to have outgrown its place in the flowerbed.

Spring is also a good time to divide and conquer, so if you miss your window of opportunity to do it now, you can wait till next year.

Your newly divided perennials will need at least two weeks to get established in their new homes.

This means that if the ground is about ready to freeze, you've waited too long. That's probably not going to happen within the next several weeks so get out your digging forks!

What? You don't have a digging fork? I suppose a shovel will have to do then. But using a digging fork, also called a garden fork, makes the dividing part a little easier.

You can pick one up at any local garden center or big box store. Begin by using your fork or shovel to dig around the plant, and then lift the entire clump out of the ground.

Once you have the clump out of the ground, use a spade or sharp knife to cut the clump into sections. Sections can be as small as you need them to be, or larger if you like.

After you've conquered and divided, toss any leftovers onto the compost pile and do a little trimming on the roots of the sections you'll be replanting.

If roots are extremely long and tangled I suggest cutting them back, then washing away loose dirt. Relocate sections into their new homes, and keep them watered in for the first couple of weeks. And don't plant them any deeper than the original clump.

Maureen and I conquered the remaining fall garden clean-up chores this past weekend, she even drove the lawn tractor, and that rarely happens!

T.C. Conner is a columnist for Allied News. He can be reached at Check out his blog at www.the His new book, "Through the Seasons with The Write Gardener," is available for sale at Allied News. Published Nov. 2, 2011 in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201A Erie St., Grove City.