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August 9, 2023

Divide Perennials Or Consider The Alternatives

As you enjoy the great outdoors on these beautiful days, do you stop short when your eyes fall on those overgrown perennials? You suddenly come back to reality and jot down the need to take care of them this fall.

Overgrown perennials are reduced in size by dividing them. Dig up the whole plant, including as much root as possible. Place it on a tarp and cut the root in half and then into quarters. How you cut it depends on the size of the root and your strength. Some people are able to divide them with a very sharp shovel. Others may use an axe or even a saw.

When finished, you’ll have four plants instead of one. Now you have to decide what to do with them. You can put one back in the hole from which you removed the original plant and the other three in new locations in your yard. This means that you’ll have to divide four plants when these outgrow their spaces. You could return one quarter to the original hole and give the other three to family, friends or even to a community plant sale.

If you’ve divided your perennials before and it seems as though the plant root is larger each time and it’s getting harder for you to wield the cutting tool, both reactions are accurate. As the plant grows, its roots grow in size and strength. As you age your strength and endurance begins to wane.

If this is the position you find yourself in, why not find new homes for all four pieces this fall? In the perennial’s spot, plant a shrub or a dwarf conifer. Neither of those plants need to be dug up and divided. A shrub may have to be pruned once every year or two. Dwarf conifers need even less care. Some never need pruning, others every few years. The pictured dwarf blue spruce is one of two that a customer has had  since 2009 and they’ve never required pruning.

A common argument against replacing perennials with shrubs is that the perennials were planted for their flowers. Many shrubs flower just as beautifully. Our city’s signature plant, the lilac, is just one example. Shrubs may flower earlier in the spring, and the blooms may not last as long as those on the perennials. But think of the progressively more difficult work you’ll be saving.

If you want flowers in a particular spot where you’re considering replacing perennials, mix early blooming plants like lilac or rhododendron with later blooming plants like hydrangeas. Another alternative would be to place decorative containers of annuals in the bed when your spring blooming shrub has finished its annual display of color.

Mixing several sizes of dwarf conifers with various foliage colors and textures can provide an outstanding display. Best of all, it needs little or no maintenance. Dwarf conifer gardens are among the fastest growing segments of the landscape industry.

If replacing your high maintenance perennials with low maintenance shrubs and/or dwarf conifers interests you but you don’t know where to start or are unable to visualize the change, we’d be happy to help. Our landscape designers can create your beautiful new area and our landscape professionals can do the planting. Then all you have to do is enjoy the new look to your yard.