When to divide agapanthus?

One of my sisters has just recently bought the rental they were living in off of my parents. After much bush-whacking you can now see the path around the back, the sun, and some garden.

That garden is full of self-sown tree babies. She kindly gave me a massive bunch of them that are currently hanging out in a bucket of water waiting to be planted – YAY free plants!

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She also had a flax that was growing up through a fern (that she has also removed) and under a camellia that really didn’t need a flax squashing it. So we pulled it out. And didn’t land on our bottoms, which was no mean feat, I tell you. More free plants!

Once we got it home it too hung out in a bucket of water for a day. But my super-keen kids wanted things to plant, so I thought we could divide it up and plant it in a few places so we would have several free plants out of the original one.

How to get Free Plants

Flax and grasses are very easy to split up and make many more free plants from one original plant.

So you can buy one $10 flax and get 5 or more free plants from it! Or better yet find a willing person to let you lift and split some they have established.

Super free!

How to divide a flax bush and transplant it successfully

Dividing and transplanting flax is one of the technically easier, but physically harder things you can do in the garden.

Step One: The hardest thing is probably to dig it out. Use a fork and slowly work your way around the flax (or grass). Stick the fork in the ground and then lean on the handle, slowly lifting the plant. Take a step sideways and repeat. At the end you may need something longer to help pry it up if it is a big flax like a large pry-bar.

Step Two: Wash the mud off most of the roots carefully so you can see what you are doing.

Step Three: Trim all the leaves down with sharp secateurs to about 15-25cm for flax and 10-15cm for grasses. This reduces their fluid loss and helps them cope with the massive root loss.

Step Four: Identify the individual plants that make up the whole.

Step Five: Carefully pry the plants and roots apart at the join, you may need some sharp secateurs to aid you in this, but generally they pull apart fairly easily.

Step Six: Either pot up in potting mix or pop directly into your garden.

I enlisted the help of some very keen waterers

Step Seven: Water well and keep watering every 2-3 days (unless it rains of course) until you see signs of new growth.

For further reading, I really recommend all of these books. I own every one of them and they are amazing resources!

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Flax – Kiwi Icon

For the first New Zealanders it was indispensible; used in clothing, shelter, for catching and storing food, and as medicine. In the early 1900s its fibre was one of our most important exports. These days flax endures as one of our most important plants, in the fine art of weaving, in our natural environment – and in our gardens.

The main difference between flax now and flax a hundred years ago is the explosion of different colours and forms, so unique and beautiful that they are sought after by gardeners all over the world. No other cold-hardy plant comes close to matching the look of flax with its unique combination of texture and shape.

In the wild there are two main species. Phormium tenax (harakeke or swamp flax) reaches two or three metres tall, its stiff upright leaves and flower spikes rising as high as five metres. This is the flax used in maori weaving. It is also the one to plant if you have wet ground or want to plant a shelter that doubles as a bird magnet. The towering flower spikes attract tui and other nectar seeking birds.

Phormium cookianum (wharariki or mountain flax)is shorter in stature with long twisted seed capsules. In the wild, two quite distinct forms of this species exist; one with weeping foliage, the other with stiff foliage. Phormium cookianum typically grows in coastal and mountain areas.

These native species have donated their genes to today’s countless modern cultivars. The main focus in recent times has been on increasing the range of colourful little flaxes suitable for our smaller gardens. Smaller flaxes also make fantastic container plants. With so many colourful varieties, it’s hard go past flax for year-round colour. Use it as an accent, for mass planting on difficult slopes, for large pots and in mixed shrub plantings to invite more birds into your garden.

Generally, the smaller cookianum types prefer well drained soil and are the most tolerant of dry conditions. They’re also best for windy sites. Tall Phormium texax can suffer from shredded leaves in heavy wind. On the other hand, it is useful for soaking up excess moisture, including fluid from septic tanks.

For small gardens in need of a plain green flax, Phormium cookianum ‘Green Dwarf’ is superb. Just 75cm tall, it has stiff upright foliage and beautiful yellow flowers, great for picking.

Making the most of flax

  • For best colour and healthy compact growth, plant in full sun.
  • Most of the low growing, colourful flaxes prefer well drained soils.
  • Avoid very sheltered locations to minimize pests such as scale insect and mealy bug. An insecticide mixed with spraying oil is an effective control for these pests. Mixing in detergent or spray fixing agent will help it stick. Alternatively remove pests with a soft brush and soapy water.
  • Most flax varieties are fairly frost hardy. If they are damaged by frost, refrain from removing the burned outer leaves until the risk of frost has passed.
  • Water young plants in dry spells and feed in spring with slow release fertiliser.
  • To keep flax tidy, cut old foliage cleanly from the base with a sharp knife. Plain green growth appearing on coloured varieties should be removed before it takes over.
  • Lift and divide every few years to keep flax plants looking fresh.

How to lift and divide flax

Spring is a good time to rejuvenate flax plants and propagate more plants for your garden by lifting and dividing. Ideally it is done every few years. You’ll need a strong spade, a good sharp knife and bit of brute strength. First dig up the entire plant. Then divide it into sections, each with some roots and a fan of foliage. Don’t worry if you break some roots. They’re very tough. Trim long or damaged roots and trim the foliage by about half to make a fan shape. Replant into good, compost enriched soil and water well.


Divide and Conquer

“United we stand, divided we fall”, “A house divided against itself cannot stand”. Notable quotes suggesting the consequences of being divided. But in a garden, division isn’t always a bad thing.

Recently in this column we have talked about the importance of fall planting, especially in a climate such as ours. Just like new plantings, this is the time of year to perform one of the most neglected garden tasks. Dividing clumping plants is an important chore that, once learned, is relatively easy to perform. The most common candidate in our coastal gardens for this task include daylilies, agapanthus, Shasta daisies, society garlic, fortnight lily, New Zealand flax, bird of paradise and most ornamental grasses. These plants comprise some of the most popular plants currently used in Orange County gardens.

After dividing an overgrown plant, you not only get new plants to fill the gaps in a bed or to plant in an enteriely new part of the garden, but you will improve the health of your plants so they will grow vigorously and bloom more profusely.

As a clumping plant grows, its new growth is on the outer edge of the clump. Many clumping plants eventually turn woody or die in the center as they push out new growth on their perimeter. The other reason to periodically divide these plants, especially in small urban gardens like ours, is to reduce the size of the clump. That bird of paradise, New Zealand flax or agapanthus that was so cute three of four years ago may now be a beast, outgrowing its space and overwhelming the garden. I quick glace around the garden will often highlight several candidates for division.

The tool of choice for this task is a spading fork, a tool that unfortunately most local gardeners have not yet discovered. A spading fork is not a pitchfork. It has thicker, shorter and stronger tines, a shorter shaft and a D-shaped handle. A standard round-point shovel can work in a pinch. However, the beauty of a spading fork is that it allows you to dig under a clump of vegetation and remove it without severing too many of the roots, which hang through the tines.

Although you may be able to divide a large clumping plants into a dozen sections or more, remember that the smaller the section, the longer it may take to mature, and bloom again. How often to divide a plant depends on how fast the clump expands. Vigorous growers, such as fortnight lily (Dietes) and Red Fountain Grass (Pennisetum), often need dividing every two to three years. Slower plants, such as bird of paradise (Strelitzia) or Clivia may only need a division every ten years.

If a plant is blooming poorly, has a lot of dead wood in the center, or is cramped and pushing out of the soil, it’s time to divide. If the plant appears vigorous and is blooming, wait.

A day or two before your chore, moisten the soil around the plant thoroughly, so you can dig more easily. Most clumping plants should be cut back rather severely prior to dividing. This step will frieghten a novice more than almost anything else, but clumping plants almost universally respond to hard cut-back very well. This cutting back, usually to a few inches of the soil, helps the plant better sustain the trauma of the digging and dividing as well as making the job easier for the gardener.

After cutting the plant back, use your spading fork or shovel to cut a circle into the soil around the plant, a bit past its perimeter. Once the plant is out of the ground, gently remove some soil from the rootball. Bulbing or tuberous plants, such as society garlic, agapanthus, daylily and clivia are easier to divide if you remove all the soil from their roots.

Plants can be broken into sections with a spading fork, shovel, knife, saw or pruning shears. For smaller clumps I prefer to use my hands, seperating the divisions at thier natural breaking points. Plants that have tough, sturdy roots, like daylily or fortnight lily (Moraea), usually need to be cut or sawed apart. Brittle or delicate roots (Clivia) need gentler handling.

When replanting the divisions treat them much like a new plant you are planting from the nursery. Prepare the planting area using soil amendments, a balanced organic fertilizer and perhaps gypsum. Replant the divisions immediately. To allow for settling, plant the divisions about 1/2 inch higher than the level at which they were originally growing. Give the planting a very thorough soaking and fill in with additional soil if settling occurs, but being careful to keep the replanted divisions at or above the surrounding soil. Keep the soil moist over the next few weeks as the roots venture back out into the soil and fresh top growth begins.

An overgrown plant, once divided and replanted will often burst out of the soil with new foliage surprisingly quickly. You may be surprised that by spring the newly divided plants are better than ever; with healthy new growth and abundant flowers, not the tired old clump that only a few months earlier was full of dead, brown foliage and only a few flowers.

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar

Dividing Agapanthus Plants: When And How To Divide An Agapanthus Plant

Beautiful, easy care agapanthus plants are perfect choices to decorate the borders along your driveway or fence. With their tall, slender stems, lush foliage and bright blue or white flowers, agapanthus are about as attractive and low-maintenance as it gets. Another great thing about agapanthus is that if you have one, you can get extra plants free by dividing and transplanting agapanthus clumps. Read on to learn more about dividing agapanthus plants.

Can I Divide Agapanthus?

Can I divide agapanthus, you ask. The answer is yes, you can and you should. As the plants mature, they crowd against each other underground, and this overcrowding limits their flowering. The best way to remedy the problem is to start dividing and transplanting agapanthus. But you’ll want to learn how and when to split agapanthus to be sure you do

it right.

When to Split Agapanthus

Don’t think about dividing agapanthus plants while they are offering you those lovely blossoms, even if the flowering seems less than last year due to overcrowding. If you want to know when to split agapanthus, you’ll need to know whether your variety is evergreen or deciduous.

For evergreen varieties, you should think about dividing and transplanting agapanthus every 4 to 5 years. Do the actual division when new growth emerges in spring, or else in early autumn after the plants have finished flowering.

This timing works for deciduous plants too. However, these should only be divided every 6 to 8 years.

How to Divide an Agapanthus

Dividing agapanthus plants is easy. All you need is a garden fork or shovel, a large kitchen knife, and a new garden site prepared to receive the transplants. Here’s how to divide an agapanthus:

  • Press the garden fork or shovel into the ground just at the outside of the root ball of the plant. Pressing gently, lift the whole clump of agapanthus roots out of the soil.
  • Once the root clump is out of the ground, clip off the remaining flower stems right at the base, and trim off any old or faded leaves.
  • Divide the main clump into several smaller clumps with your big kitchen knife. Keep in mind, though, that the smaller the new clumps, the longer they will take to flower.
  • Before you start transplanting the clumps, prune back the foliage by about two thirds and clip back any dead roots.
  • Replant them in the sunny, well-drained location you have prepared for them, and irrigate them thoroughly.

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