Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Dividing Daylilies

 Wednesday, September 9, 2015

For a couple weeks now I have been mentioning that my daily routine has involved digging and dividing daylilies to line out (plant in rows) in our gardens to replenish plant stock for next spring. I have received several requests asking what "line out" means and have also been queried as to how I divide plants.

Dividing daylilies, or any perennials for that matter, requires a simple understanding of how the plant grows. It also requires that you remember that you aren't going to kill the plant and that you need to be a bit ruthless. Here's an example of how I do it. I am using a daylily named Strutters Ball. It's one of our favorites because it produces lots of scapes and is a nice purple. In this example I wanted double and triple fans when I was finished but in a recent example demonstration I gave to the Waterbury Garden Club I divided a similar  plant of Strutters Ball with my hands and ended up with 11 single fans. How small you divide the plant depends on what purpose you have in mind for the plants when you are finished. Smaller divisions to the point of single fans will take extra time to mature and offer bounteous scapes and bud counts for your enjoyment.

I start by digging deeply around the plant. Over time you will have a good idea of how the roots grow. With Strutters Ball I know the roots will extend underground about 8 " from the perimeter of the root ball. With a plant such as the daylily Cherokee Star I know that the roots are more rhizome-like and grow thick roots horizontally from the root mass and more distant from the plant. That means I have to begin to dig further away so as to maintain the important roots which will serve to make more plants themselves.

When I have cut into the ground all the way around the plant, I carefully pry it out by putting pressure on the shovel or spade handle in a couple places around the plant perimeter. Lately it has been so dry here that the plant balls come out easily. Then I shake the root ball a few times to remove as much dirt as possible. This action shakes out insects and lets you see where worms and other critters may be living. It also makes it easier to identify any weed roots which should be pulled out. I remove any older leaves and essentially clean up the mass as best I can.

Dead plant scapes should be pulled out of the plant ball or cut as close to it as possible. They dry as hollow tubes and those serve as good places for bugs to lay eggs and over winter. By removing all the spent scapes you are removing problem areas. I have never read anything that speaks to fungal problems originating from the old scapes but I am sure old scapes could be a problem too---so--eliminate all you can. Then I trim the entire root ball so the fans are 3"-4" tall. 

Next I wash the entire root ball with the garden hose using as much pressure as I can get. My goal is to wash off as much dirt as possible. This makes it easier to see how the plant has matured and how the fans are related to each other.

I use cheap knives with serrated edges that I buy in quantity from box stores. I always tie a piece of orange surveyors tape to the handle so when I drop the knife, I can find it. I try to cut down through the root mass so that I am dividing the plant into two or three fans per piece. In this case I cut 6 pieces out of the original three year old clump of  Strutters Ball.

As soon as I have divided plants for planting, a get them back in the ground or in  pots. If I intend to grow the plants on in quantity so we can dig and pot them in the future, I spray the rows with horticultural oil. This is a common surfactant that is often used by orchardists because it smothers small insect pests and their eggs. 

Dividing daylilies is not that difficult a task depending on how old the plants are to begin with. Ending up with more divisions than you want can always be timed to garden club, library or school plant sale fund raisers or you can trade your extras with a friend. Give it a try!

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where the temperature is an even 63 degrees, the morning is windless, the sky is light grey. We may have a thunderstorm by 4 PM but the expected rain totals sound like less than we really need. If you grow peonies, be sure to water them as they set buds for next year's flowers and since mid August when this began, it has been hot and very dry. 

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
On Facebook as George Africa and also as Vermont Flower Farm & Gardens.
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Always here to help you grow your green thumb!