Some imprudent and irresponsible perennial plants become congested or exhausted in their patch of ground and lack the intelligence or instinct for self preservation to spread out on their own. This leads to a decline in flower and leaf production and in extreme cases, histrionics followed by death. Don’t wait for your one precious cluster of Campanula “Elizabeth” to do the whole dying duck in a thunderstorm routine before buggering off to the great nursery in the sky. Split and replant now and you may get umpteen plants that will get their roots established before possible mythical heat waves cause irrigation issues.
Other summer flowering plants that benefit from division include Anemone, Bergenia (elephant’s ears), Convallaria (lily of the valley), Epimedium, (barrenwort, bishop’s hat, fairy wings, horny goat weed, rowdy lamb herb, randy beef grass or yin yang huo – the person who thought of some of these names would benefit from therapy; Latin is a relief really), Geranium, Helianthus (sunflower – not the annuals), Hellebore (Lenten rose), Hemerocallis (day lily), Hosta and Primula (primrose). Some specimens bear a grudge if you mess with their underpinnings; Paeonia and Papaver (peony and perennial poppy respectively) are notorious in this respect and may take time to forgive you and bear blooms. Ornamental grasses may also be given the torn apart treatment; you could have your own prairie before the cows come home.
Wait until the ground is dryish, dig up your intended victim and slough off the soil so that you can see the size and shape of the job ahead. If the shake down reveals a mess of small tangled roots (e.g. Primula) you can get in there with your fingers and tenderly prise them apart. Give the roots a quick rinse if this makes the task easier. You don’t need to crack them into individual plants; a clump of two or three will give a better show sooner. Very small plantlets would profit from being potted up and pampered until they reach sufficient size to hold their own in the garden.
Primula Miss Indigo
Larger fibrous roots (e.g. Hemerocallis) are best separated using garden forks, back to back. Gently jiggle and pry at the root ball until the plant gives up the fight or you lose the will to live, whichever happens soonest. If at first you don’t succeed, try again. Then stop; there’s no point in making an idiot of yourself. Take no prisoners and cut through with a sharp spade or pinch a knife from the kitchen. Wash the blade after use and sneak it back in the drawer and the cook need never know. Take care not to cut yourself, as re-attached thumbs are a dead giveaway.
Replant your prizes with a little fish, blood and bone meal fertiliser and water them in. Keep an eye on them while they re-establish and soak the earth before they start to wilt. If you find that you now have an excess, of Asters for example, pot up the surplus for unloading at the school fete, swapping with neighbours, or leaving behind the shed to die horribly from neglect. Label each specimen so that you look proficient. Research the common name online and add the clean, wholesome Latin for extra brownie points.