Sharing Perennials

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Purple irises growing in a garden. Photo by Getty Images/Viorika.

About 15 years ago, I came home from work to discover that my father-in-law had transplanted some beautiful purple iris plants along the side of our home. He and I shared a love for gardening, and when he saw his irises needed thinning, he thought of me. I truly appreciated his thoughtfulness — and I appreciate it even more now.

He passed away about 10 years ago, but the irises he transplanted still bloom every year. Every spring, as I see the flowers forming, I say, “Dad’s irises will be blooming soon!” They’re more than flowers; they’re a memorial to him.

Hostas prefer well-drained soil and partial shade. Photo by Getty Images/nelsonarts.

Some people want a perfectly planned landscape for their garden, so they hire professionals to design and plant their flower beds. Some even hire people to come in to weed, trim, and do all the maintenance. And that’s fine, if that’s what you prefer.

However, I personally love the memories that are stirred when I work in my garden. Many of my plants were given to me, or shared by people I love. My peonies were part of a bush from my mother’s house, my pink roses came from my oldest daughter, and the various hostas came from overgrown plants in my church’s garden. I appreciate these plants so much more than if they came from a nursery, because they invoke memories of people and places I love.

Peonies are best split and transplanted in the fall. Photo by Getty Images/AnnaElizabethPhotography.

According to Dictionary.com, the word “perennial” means “lasting for an indefinitely long time; enduring.” Unlike the annuals we plant each year in our gardens, a perennial needs to be planted or transplanted only once, and it can come back year after year. In most cases, it’ll grow fuller and stronger as the years pass.

Those who share perennials also benefit, because most plants need to be cut back or thinned as time goes by. It’s not at all rude to ask a gardener to share a plant. Most gardeners will appreciate knowing that their flowers will be enjoyed by you for years to come.

When transplanting roses, be sure to keep the new plant well-watered as its roots take hold of the new soil. Photo by Getty Images/jorgeantonio.

Tips for Sharing

  • Early spring or early fall are usually the best times to divide and transplant perennials. Some hardy perennials, such as Shasta daisies, can be transplanted in the summer, but never try to transplant if the plant is under stress. Make sure your perennial is perky, well-watered, and free of bugs and diseases.
  • If you’re dividing daisies, mums, or coneflowers, it’s good to slice a section from the plant with a sharp spade or shovel. Separate a section of healthy shoots with attached roots from the existing plant. As long as you have healthy shoots with intact roots, your perennial should do well as a transplant.
  • Dig a hole that’s large enough to accommodate your transplanted perennial, and keep it well-watered as the roots take hold of the new soil. Remember that any transplant will be in “shock” for a few days after it’s been planted. Watch them carefully as they get used to their new home.
  • Some perennials, such as hostas and irises, have different root systems. Hostas spread by sending out tuberous roots; sometimes you can actually see a small plant branching off of a larger hosta plant. These are prime candidates for transplanting. Simply dig up the smaller plant, detach its tubers from the “mother,” and then transplant the smaller plant into its own space. Hostas like well-drained soil and do best in areas that receive at least partial shade. Irises have a root system consisting of rhizomes. Dig up the entire clump after it’s bloomed, and then slice off a section with a sharp spade before returning the clump to its spot. As long as you have at least one healthy shoot with an attached root, you can transplant the section of iris into a new, sunny spot. (This is good for the existing plant as well, because thinning irises will refresh them and allow them to bloom more in the next season. Divide them about every three years.)
  • Peonies are a big, showy spring plant that’ll last for years in the garden. For that reason, they’re sometimes called a “heritage” plant, because you can share them from one generation to the next. However, unlike other perennials, it’s best to split peonies in the fall, rather than in the spring when they’re using their energy to form flowers. In general, peonies don’t like to be disturbed, so be very gentle as you split them. Dig up the entire clump and gently lift it from the soil with a spade or shovel. Peonies are tuberous, and sometimes you can simply pull the tubers apart. Or you can use a sharp knife to isolate a section with at least three “eyes” (think potatoes) for transplanting. Trim back the leaves, and then transplant your peonies into an area that’s well-drained and receives at least partial sun. Keep the plant moist to allow the root system to get established. Hopefully, you’ll have a new, young peony bush the following spring.
  • In general, most perennials take well to transplanting, and dividing existing plants can also help the original plant to be refreshed and less crowded. Once established, a transplant can bring years of beauty to your garden