Moving and dividing perennials, again and again

Judith Adam

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Lavender 'Katherine' phlox is fragrant. (Garden Making photo)
Lavender 'Katherine' phlox is fragrant. (Garden Making photo)
Lavender ‘Katherine’ phlox is fragrant. (Garden Making photo)

This always starts so simply, and it’s going to take only 10 minutes. It begins with one key plant that just has to be moved, because it’s in entirely the wrong light or out of character with bed mates or infringing on neighbours—or worse, I’m simply bored with it. This week it was a large clump of ‘Katherine’ phlox (Phlox paniculata ‘Katherine’), with lavender-blue flowers and white central star, a phlox I particularly favour because of its lovely colour and fragrance that drifts along the front pathway in summer evenings. ‘Katherine’ was absolutely bleached to creamy-white in this summer’s extended heat, with all blue pigment faded away. The return of cooler temperatures re-established the petal colour, but I was disappointed at the length of time it was faded.

So up it must come, and as often happens, the plant has done so well that the root ball is far larger than expected. Divisions can be made, but then they must go somewhere. Perhaps it should stay large and intact? Okay, then I must find something similarly large that can be lifted to make room for the phlox. Farther along the path an unsuspecting ‘Krossa Regal’ hosta falls into view, in just the perfect part-sun location that’s needed, and if it would only get up and out, I could put the phlox there. But the hosta must be prised out, and its substantial root ball leaves behind an unexpected crater. Now the phlox and hosta are both on the grass, along with three heucheras that have been displaced in the rumpus, and a few dozen assorted bulbs that also popped out of the ground. I ask you, is this progress?

The ‘Katherine’ phlox goes easily into the hosta hole, but the hole is more than commodious and extra soil is needed to fill it in. I drag over a large pot of coleus and rip them out (someone is losing her cool here), and that soil is used to pack the phlox in. The phlox issue is now settled, and there’s enough room to tuck the heucheras in nearby—another problem solved. The bulbs are a mystery, but surprises are always welcome and they can be stuck in anywhere. There’s spilled soil and a dirty pot, and the bodies of many coleus to clean up. And, oh yes, there seems to be a huge hosta sitting there, too heavy for me to lift. I will tell you that through many seasons of dividing plants, I currently own 26 divisions of ‘Krossa Regal’ hosta, formed into two borders. They are striking, upright plants with five-foot (1.5-m) -tall flower scapes, and this is a brilliant use for them, but I simply can’t take any more.

I decided to roll the ‘Krossa Regal’ into a large garbage bag, drag it to the driveway, and call my friend Clare, who lives on a small farm nearby. This fabulous hosta is headed to greener pastures. That’s what friends are for.


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5 thoughts on “Moving and dividing perennials, again and again”

  1. Hi Judith
    I enjoyed reading your articles and happily found answers to a few questions I had milling about in my head. I love your approach. Marylou

  2. Hi Cris (Nov. 9) and Beverley (Nov. 3),

    Oh golly, but we’ve got so many garden babies to look after — both our own, and our friends! I have quite a collection of plants still out of the ground, and will have to get creative about their winter storage. Today I absolutely must make an effort to get some planted…. I can feel frost breathing down my neck!
    — Judith

  3. I have to agree with Beverley, you’re my kind of gardener. In the process of putting the garden to bed last weekend, I found myself splitting, transplanting, and short of earth, I borrowed from Peter to give to Paul, or in garden speak, from pots of spent annuals to the craters, remnants of my enthusiasm.

    Homeless hostas are now cozily nesting by the compost and will find a new home in the spring….or so I think.

    What started out as a morning task took me into dusk and I only reluctantly hung up my garden tools.

    I love Garden Making 🙂

  4. Oh Judith,
    I just love your posts. You are certainly my kind of gardener! I have done the very same process as you have. Right now I am overwintering 2 shrubs that my friend could not find a home for in her own beds!
    Pull them up in the spring and move them again!


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