The beautiful thing about perennial plants is that a small potted flower or package of bulbs you buy at the garden center will quickly grow and multiply, providing reliable, practically maintenance-free blooms year after year.

The beautiful thing about perennial plants is that a small potted flower or package of bulbs you buy at the garden center will quickly grow and multiply, providing reliable, practically maintenance-free blooms year after year.


But even perennials need a little trim now and then. If left to grow too much, the flowers become overcrowded, and the central parts of the plants grow less productive. Some varieties, including irises, fail to bloom altogether.


The solution? Divide and conquer.


Dividing your perennials will conquer the overcrowding that adversely affects older plants, and keep them vigorous and blooming freely, according to master gardeners from Texas AgriLife Extension Service.


On the extension’s website, easttexasgardening.tamu.edu, master gardener Robin Wright Brumbelow recommends perennials be divided every three to five years.


The process may seem daunting, but according to Kathy Ballow, also a Smith County master gardener with Texas AgriLife Extension Service, it is an easy and inexpensive way to gain additional plants for your garden or to share plants with friends. Still, she said, some loss will be inevitable.


“Figure about 50 percent of the plants will survive,” she said.


Ballow said the best time to divide plants is after they’re done blooming.  She said early June, for instance, is a perfect time to divide irises. Brumbelow recommends coneflowers, phlox, Shasta daisies, day lilies, coreopsis and other spring/summer-blooming plants be divided in the early fall to enable their roots to become established before winter.


- Pull up the entire plant to be divided, making sure you have sufficient roots, tubers or rhizomes, Ballow said. These will supply the immediate nutritional needs of the divided plant until it can establish roots.


- Gently shake off loose soil and remove dead leaves and stems. Separate plants using your hands, a garden spade, fork or knife, Brumbelow said.


- “Now put some back in the ground and find a home for the rest,” Ballow said. She said replanted clumps should include vigorous parts from existing plants. Any weak, woody or diseased parts of the plant should be discarded.


- Brumbelow said plants should be divided into clumps of three to five shoots each.


- When replanting, put the flowers in their original depth and in the same type of soil. Use potting soil mix with fertilizer in it. Once it starts growing, you’ll want to add more nutrients, Ballow said.


- Make sure there is enough root remaining to the plant that it will take hold and grow, Ballow said.


- Replant the flowers immediately. If you don’t know where to place them right away, put them in pots in the interim. “It’s a big shock to plants once you pull them up. Get them in a new home environment as soon as possible, and water them right away,” Ballow said.