Parsley clump after separating and temporarily returned to pot. Contains 20 plantlets. Photo: Judy Isacoff

NATURE’S TURN: Division, multiplication, sowing and savoring

Once root-bound specimens are out of their pots or dug from the garden, divide them by cutting with a knife, hatchet or saw, whatever is most appropriate for the particular situation and most safely done.

May 22 – June 4, 2017

Mount Washington — Seeds broadcast over ready beds in early April have morphed into adjacent tapestry squares of mesclun, dill and cilantro. Long rows of rhythmically spaced red and gold onion whips have taken hold of rain soaked ground, sending tall, fresh green shoots to inhabit the cool air. Pea plants – each a small, green universe – paint parallel strips at the base of a trellis. Three rows of 2-foot-tall fall-planted garlic extend their branching, slightly twirled leaves into the breeze; they shake in unison, like line dancers to music.

Bluestar ("Amsonia hubrichtii") in need of division, May 17, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff
Bluestar (“Amsonia hubrichtii”) in need of division, May 17, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

Cold-hardy gardeners have run the course set by frost-hardy plants. We’ve arrived at the time to debut frost-tender varieties in our gardens.

Planting in the rain has become the norm this season. Reliable spring rain makes it easier to establish transplants and divisions, so I will focus on division and leave warm-weather crops for next time. Aging perennials press for renewal as they become overgrown and root-bound in the space allotted them and when they are invaded by weeds. In my garden, bluestar (Amsonia hubrichtii”), native to the south-central United States, and locally native blue vervain (“Verbena hastate”) require dividing this year. Both are alive with butterflies when in bloom. The bluestar stands about 3 feet tall and offers feathery, light blue flower tops in spring and leaves that provide long lasting autumn color. In summer, vervain’s purple-blue flowering candlelabras sway on strong 6-foot-tall stems.

Parsley plantlets 12”x12” spacing, before trimming, May 15, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff
Parsley plantlets 12”x12” spacing, before trimming, May 15, 2017. Photo: Judy Isacoff

I first learned the basics of dividing root-bound plants and, in particular, potted nursery stock when in the cashier’s line at White Flower Farm in Connecticut. I must have looked like a novice to the kindly employee who noticed the gallon-sized pots of end-of-season daylilies under my arms. He told me to press all around the containers to loosen the plants from their pots. Once root-bound specimens are out of their pots or dug from the garden, divide them by cutting with a knife, hatchet or saw, whatever is most appropriate for the particular situation and most safely done. Pull compacted roots away from the surface of the root ball without breaking them.

When we purchase packs of seedlings for spring planting, the same method might apply: i.e. when there are many plantlets spaced in a block of soil, cut the block of rooted plants into pieces that contain one plant each, then spread the roots. A few days ago, when looking for parsley seedlings at a well-stocked local nursery, I chose a pot crowded with well-formed plants. These would be impossible to cut apart while preserving their root systems. In this case, coax the root ball out of its pot and put it in a container of water for about an hour. Once soaked, it’s easy to tease apart intertwined roots. There were 20 seedlings in that pot that are now planted in the garden 12 inches apart.

For step by step details on dividing perennials, please refer to https://www.finegardening.com/10-tips-dividing-perennial-plants

Resources

https://www.finegardening.com/10-tips-dividing-perennial-plants

Bluestar: https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=w810

Blue Vervain: https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=z370