Ways to multiply perennials in your garden without spending a dime

Come and get your free perennials! They’re not far away. In fact, they’re right in your garden.

It’s November and now’s the time to divide those perennials that form clumps. If you don’t divide them, after a few years the centers of the clumps will die back and present a ragged appearance. Dividing them refreshes them, returns them to their youth and eliminates unsightly clumps.

But the best part is that each division is a new plant — a free perennial to expand and enhance your garden at considerable savings. A quick tour through a few mail-order plant catalogs shows that you’d pay $12.95 for one root of Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding heart), $14.95 each for Hemerocallis ‘Hyperion’ (daylily) and $13.95 for Thymus serpyllum (creeping thyme).

For the clump-formers (see box), here’s how you do it. When your original planting is 3 years old, and every three years thereafter, dig up the entire clump. You’ll notice there are a number of crowns — the growing points — emerging from portions of the root ball. Pull these apart with your hands, or if that’s not possible, use a sharp knife to cut the segments apart. Each should have one or two growing points.

You’ll now have anywhere from three to five or more smaller masses of roots. Immediately replant these in prepared soil (deeply dug and amended with rich compost) and water them well. If your original plant has yielded five new ones, that’s four free plants. And at, say, $10 a pop, that’s $40 worth of free perennials. Yay!

Clump-forming perennials for dividing

Achillea (Yarrow)

Ajuga (Bugleweed)

Anthemis (Golden Marguerite)

Artemsia (Silver mound)


Coreopsis (Tickseed)

Dicentra spectabilis (Bleeding heart)

Geranium (Cranesbill)

Hemerocallis (Daylily)


Iris (Bearded or German iris)

Leucanthemum (Shasta daisy)

Liriope (Lilyturf)

Monarda (Beebalm)

Nepeta (Catmint)

Penstemon (Beardtongue)

Peonies (separate roots with three growing points)


Rudbeckia (Black-eyed Susan)


Thymus serpyllum (Creeping thyme)

Viola (Pansies)

Not all perennials should be divided

Some perennials, because they are tap-rooted or simply persnickety, don’t take to division. They require propagation by layering or root cuttings. But you should be aware of them because if you try to divide them, you’ll likely kill them or damage them severely (see box).

Perennials that shouldn’t be divided

Aquilegia (Columbine)

Asclepias (Milkweed spp.)

Baptisia (Blue false indigo)


Gypsophila (Baby’s breath)

Iberis (Candytuft)

Kniphofia (Red-hot poker)



Papaver orientalis (Oriental poppy)

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian sage)

What to do with all those additional plants

As long as you’re dividing perennials and getting all these free plants, here’s a suggestion for how to use some of them.

Roses tend to form flower buds at places that get the most sunlight. In shrub roses or any that aren’t trained horizontally, that’s at the upward-facing tips of growing stems. That means you can have a very pretty rose with lots of flowers covering the upper boundary of the plant but not much happening visually down below where it’s all gnarly stems with wicked thorns and leaves. The good news is there are flowers that coordinate with the rose flowers and cover up the dreck below.

Here is a sampling (see box).

Perennials to plant around and with your roses

Veronica (Speedwell ‘Sunny Border Blue’)

Brunnera macrophylla (‘Jack Frost’)

Hemerocallis (Daylily ‘Elegant Candy’)

Alchemilla (Lady’s mantle)

Lavandula (Lavender)

Gypsophila (Baby’s breath)

Monarda (Beebalm)

Campanula persicifolia (Peach-leaved bellflower)

Leucanthemum (Shasta daisy)

Perovskia atricplicifolia (Russian sage)

Scabiosa (Pincushion flower ‘Butterfly Blue’)

Gaillardia grandiflora (Blanket flower)

Now add some winter color and clean up

Now that winter is fast approaching, put in some color to sustain you until spring bursts out in beauty in a few months. Icelandic poppies, calendulas, primroses, violas and ornamental kale all make lovely cold-weather shows in our gentle climate. For something different, put in Zingiber zerumbet, the pine cone lily, whose flower heads are squeezed to produce a juice that cleans and conditions hair. It’s planted in November for spring and summer flowering. You’ll find sources online.

But most of your gardening work at this time of year will be maintenance. Now’s the time to remove suckers from fruit trees. Spraying fruit trees for insect and fungus control requires applications at Thanksgiving, New Year’s and Valentine’s Day, or thereabouts. There are organic alternatives to toxic chemicals for these purposes, including copper sprays and sulfur for fungus. Garden Safe sells a 3-in-1 fungicide that’s also an organically-approved insecticide and miticide.

November is the time to apply fertilizer to your food-growing beds, fruit trees and heavy-feeding ornamentals like roses. Winter rains will wash nutrients down into the root zone and tame nitrogenous fertilizers like fresh manure so it doesn’t burn plants. Using compost? Put it on 6 inches thick and renew the soil with organic fertilizers.

Jeff Cox is a Kenwood-based food and garden writer. He can be reached at

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