Multiply Your Plants the Cheap and Easy Way!

2013 5-12 The Herb Garden (1)By Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz

It’s hard to believe summer is almost over, but I can tell by the ragged look of the garden that fall is on it’s way.  Even so, there’s plenty of gardening left to do before winter’s chill sets in.  Among my favorite fall chores is propagating perennial herbs and flowers using techniques like stem cuttings, layering, and division to generate tons of new baby plants the cheap and easy way.

Vegetative propagation is most easily achieved in spring and fall when the weather is both warm and moist.  During these times, perennial plants produce an abundance of natural growth hormones to produce new stems and leaves or to expand root systems for winter survival.  When it comes to fall propagation, the key to success is in the roots.

Unlike other forms of propagation, such as stem cuttings and layering, division of mature perennials ensures that your plants start of with a small, but healthy root system that will sustain them through the long winter months ahead.  By the time spring rolls around, those same plants will have developed an extensive root system that will allow them to attain mature size much faster than their spring-planted counterparts.

Division works well for many mature perennial herbs, shrubs, flowers, and grasses.  An herb is considered mature when it is at least one year old and well established. It is important to note that some herbs can grow in the same place for a few years and never attain their mature size. These herbs are obviously struggling in their present position and should be transplanted to a more favorable spot in the garden to continue its growth rather than being divided.

The tools needed to divide herbs include a shovel or sharp spade, a small knife, a pair of scissors, and perhaps a tarp to work on.  If you plan to pot the new herbs, also have on hand several sizes of pots, a bag of potting mix, and plant markers.

Summer Herb Garden - Jill Henderson

This lavender is ready to divide. The rocks beneath the plant show where I layered stems earlier in the spring and now they are ready to transplant.

How many new plants you get from the original depends on the size and vigor of that plant. One way to determine the number of divisions that are possible is to very carefully dig up the entire plant and observe the root system.  Each new division must have a healthy network of roots attached to a viable stem or crown. Without these, the new plant may not survive the shock of division.

You can choose to divide the plant in as many parts as possible, which will give you lots of small “starters”, or you can divide the mature plant in two or three, leaving you with several fairly large ones.  The former is great for expanding a large planting bed, while the latter works best when quick productivity is the priority.

For herbs that grow in dense mounds or clumps, such as lemon balm, hyssop, savory and tarragon, the entire plant can be lifted from the ground and literally cut in half using a strong, swift thrust of a sharp spade down the center. Another approach is to divide the plant prior to digging it up. To do this, leave the plant in the ground and, using a sharp spade, cut the plant down the center in one clean motion. Carefully lift the two divisions and further divide or replant.

French Sorrel - Jill Henderson - Show Me Oz

Here, three individual sorrel divisions have been planted in a triangle. This way, if I want to give one of the plants away or relocate it in the garden, I can easily dig it up it without injuring the main plant.

Some gardeners prefer a surgical approach to plant division. After lifting the plant, use a sharp knife to cut it in two from the surface to the roots. This methodical approach definitely gives the gardener more control over where the crown is cut and the proportion of roots to each stem or crown.

Herbs that grow in large masses with extensive root systems or rooting stems, such as thyme, mint and catnip, are easy to divide. To allow for easier handling and observation of the stems, cut the foliage back by two-thirds and then cut circular or square “plugs” from the bed using a sharp trowel or knife.

So, now that you know how to divide plants, put this chore on the top of your fall garden to-do list and you will be rewarded with a bountiful supply of new herbs and flowers for your garden with plenty more to share.

Happy gardening!

© 2014 Jill Henderson  Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.


THPOKH-214x321_thumb7_thumbThe Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs

Learn how to grow and use the world’s oldest, safest, and most medicinal herbs with this easy step-by-step guide!  From starting seeds to preparing home remedies, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a treasured resource that you will turn to time and time again.

Available in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.
Look inside!


Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore.  Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.


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3 responses to “Multiply Your Plants the Cheap and Easy Way!

  1. I have a native California bunch grass plant that has prospered well for a year. I want to leave the majority of the plant alone and divide away a portion by way of propagating it. (The reason for wishing to leave the mother plant alone is that its root system is (reputedly) something like 30 feet deep, so digging up the entire plant would require reestablishing the plant.) So, I have been considering cutting off a portion of the crown and rerooting that.

    Is this a viable approach to propagating bunch grass? I would ultimately like to cover several hundred square feet with these native plants, but I do not want to risk harming the only one I have at present.

    Thank you for sharing.

    • Hi Arthur, thanks for the question. From what I’ve read, this particular grass has root systems that can reach depths of 6 ft, which as you already know, makes digging up the whole plant quite a challenge. Since this is a bunch grass, which relies on tillering or seed for natural propagation, I would limit division efforts to removing small tillers from the outside edges. Start by finding the natural segmentation points where the ‘tufts’ naturally separate from one another. Use a very sturdy knife to carefully separate the tiller from the woody part of the crown and only then utilize a very sharp digging tool to get out as much of the root as possible without damaging the rest of the plant. How much you remove depends on your judgement and the size of the plant. Since this is a very slow-growing grass, you may want to consider potting up your divisions to allow them a little more time to develop a healthy root system before replanting in the spring. Hope that helps! Let us know how it works! Tillering and bunch grasses.

  2. Pingback: Happy New Year & Thank You…for Everything! | Show Me Oz

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