Image is the Daylily 'Kenneth Alan Brizzi'
Plant World Math – divide to multiply.
Mathematics in the plant world has a distinct advantage over math taught in school. In class, I learned that a pie divided into 10 pieces resulted in 9 pieces of pie (my incentive for learning math was a piece of pie). But a plant chopped up into 10 little pieces, with a little time, produces 10 new plants as big and as valuable as the original. Plants have the potential to reproduce or multiply by a variety of methods. Seeds fall to the earth to make new plants, stem and leaf cuttings can be encouraged to grow roots, bulbs generate bulblets which mature to bulbs, modified stems called stolons and modified roots called rhizomes send out new roots into the earth followed by plantlets and some grow modified storage roots called tubers which separate from the main plant and become plants on their own. One can make divisions from plants that have rhizomes, stolons or tubers. Many plants that are dividable can be identified by their clumping growth habit.
To determine which plants are dividable, consider the function of the plant parts. Roots and stems that are modified to store reserves of food and water appear thick and fleshy. Their primary function is to keep the plant alive during times of drought and extreme cold if the plant top dies down. The secondary function of specialized roots and stems is to provide for vegetative reproduction. This is where “free” plants come in. A word of caution, though, it is illegal to propagate patented plants just as it is illegal to copy protected music, movies, etc. Check the internet if in doubt or send a comment to this article to me and I'll check for you.
The division method of making new plants is easy. It consists of thrusting a shovel straight down into a clump of a potentially dividable plant, such as iris, and moving the new clump to another spot in the garden. The new location should be prepared by mixing in soil amendment with the native soil to allow for quick root growth. Thoroughly water both the division and the original clump. With iris, the original (called the mother) plant benefits the most by this division since it will have more root room, light, access to fertilizer etc and so will bloom better. Overcrowded iris plants will not bloom as well as smaller well spaced iris clumps.
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Consider potential value when purchasing dividable plants such as lily of the valley. Its little white fragrant flowers grace any garden. After a few divisions, it becomes a ground cover that is strikingly beautiful.
As landscapes mature, sunny areas become shaded by tree growth. Dividable plants, such as Lily of the Nile, will continue to grow in the shade, but they bloom more profusely in the sun. This type of plant is easily divided and relocated.
Divisions are successful spring through fall as long as the mother plant is healthy. In the fall, after collecting nourishment all summer, divisions are most reliable. Roots receive food from the leaves and will provide all the food necessary to survive the transplant. Cooling weather in the fall and winter ease the demand for water and root function so the new division is less stressed. Root growth occurs in soil temperatures down to 40 degrees F. Plants divided in the fall benefit from several months of root growth before winter cold slows them down.
Spring flowering plants such as Persian iris, German bearded iris, artichokes, cannas, Peonies and violets are best divided in the fall.
Summer and fall flowering plants and tender spring flowering plants divide best in the spring after the coldest weather is past. These include Kaffir lily, callas, Dahlias, bleeding hearts, lily of the valley, rhubarb, poor man’s orchid, horseradish, lemongrass, caladiums, Hostas, Agapanthus, Siberian, Pacific Coast, English and butterfly irises.
July, August and September are good months to divide German bearded iris, but I prefer waiting until August or September when the maximum amount of food is stored in the roots (rhizomes). If you miss dividing in the fall season, iris are hardy enough to successfully transplant in the spring.
Dahlias are best dug in the fall and divided and planted out in the spring. Store them overwinter in vermiculite. When dividing, make sure part of the stem is included in the division. In spring, the tuber is planted at a 45 degree angle with the stem 2-3” below the soil surface.
Strawberries propagate themselves by sending out “runners” that develop plantlets which can be separated. For maximum fruit production, plant new nursery grown starter plants every two years. If it’s time to rejuvenate your strawberry beds, try “day neutral” varieties as they will produce quickly and consistently over a long growing season- spring through fall.
Japanese anemones send roots underground laterally. Like strawberries, make new plants easily be cutting the plantlets from the mother plants. It’s as easy as cutting the umbilical chord connecting mother and baby. Fertilize new divisions with an organic fertilizer such as Groganic for slow release, consistant, non-burning feeding.
So many plants can be divided successfully. See perennial books, on- line sources and call your local nurseryman for detailed information. Have fun multiplying beauty in your garden by dividing.
Happy, Healthy Gardening,
Ken A. Brizzi