The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

How to divide perennials

Dividing chives

I can't quite explain why I love plants so much, but part of it is pure skinflintery.  You can start with one plant, then a couple of years later, you have a dozen.

Chives sproutsWith herbaceous (nonwoody) perennials, the easiest way to replicate your plant is often simple division --- dig up the roots, break (or cut) the clump in half, and you have two plants for the price of one.  Not all perennials respond well to division, but many do.

The photo at the top of this post shows the several large clumps of chives I ended up with for the price of one seed.  Yep, that's right --- I planted a single chive seed in this spot in 2008, it grew and thrived, and now I've got a heaping handful.  If I really wanted to, I could tease apart each bulb and probably have a hundred or more chives, but I don't need that many, so I'll just plant them back by the hunk.

Dividing comfrey

Comfrey rootOf course, the king of division is comfrey.  I'm guessing our plants are Russian comfrey since they don't produce seeds, but they sure do divide easily.  In fact, you can't get rid of a clump once you've started it somewhere.

The photo to the left illustrates two important points.  The first is how I scrunch up my face when I think about trying to eradicate comfrey from a spot where it's become established.  More seriously, I wanted to show how pieces of comfrey that seem to lack root hairs will still grow and thrive.  You can hack a clump of comfrey to within an inch of its life and every little root bit will spring to life.  This long root will thrive, but I wouldn't expect the same from most other species.

Monday, I dug up what used to be four plants in 2008 (a quarter of what was once three plants in 2006).  I filled an entire wheelbarrow, and I'm confident there will be enough pieces of root left behind to refill the old spot in the spring.

Planting comfreyMeanwhile, the comfrey pieces I pried out of the soil formed a border for a new part of the forest garden I want to begin reclaiming from the "lawn" in 2013.  (You can read my plans here.)  I've got at least as many plants left to go elsewhere --- maybe to hold soil in the powerline pasture if we get around to playing with it this winter.

Now's the perfect time to divide most perennial herbs.  Go forth and multiply!

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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I love dividing perennials. That's how many of my plants got started, as vegetative parts passed along by friends. Now I have a nice row of garlic chives along the border of my forest garden. It's growing so thick that I'll probably have to divide it again soon. Maybe that's a good chore for today.
Comment by Sara Wed Nov 21 08:28:55 2012

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