Dividing ornamental grass is not for the timid or
How about some tips on dividing grasses? I have a grass
that's grown quite large. I tried to divide it with a shovel,
separating it from the ground. It did not work very well and the
grass is very tough.
Ornamental grass, hosta, Siberian iris, goatsbeard, daylily and
other perennials that can form very large, crowded clumps are not
the province of gentle or timid gardeners. Put enough weight on a
sharp spade -- the digging implement with a rectangular blade, as
opposed to a shovel which has a pointed tip -- and you may be able
to slice into the crown to make radial cuts as if slicing a piece
of pie. That v-shaped section might come loose if you then pry with
a spade under its outside edge -- the rim of the pie.
Then again, you may not even penetrate the crown. The bigger
grasses such as silver grass (Miscanthus species) will
defy all but a razor edge spade driven by a champion weight lifter
wearing steel shank boots. I once saw a grown man throw down his
tools, cuss and accept defeat even though it meant he'd have to
tell diminutive old Aunt Edna that he couldn't, after all, "fetch a
piece of that hosta over there."
The trick is to dig the entire clump out of the ground. Trench
all the way around it then angle down under it to break it loose.
Although this involves cutting through dense roots, it's less tough
than cutting the crown. Once there is wiggle room all around and
under the clump, go borrow a gardening friend's fork so you have
two, yours and theirs.
You don't have a fork? A sturdy fork, that tool that may look
like a pitchfork but has tines much broader and less curved? It's
invaluable in the perennial garden! Invest in one. Smith and Hawken
makes the best one around -- put it on your Christmas list.
Place the tines of the fork on the clump as if it was a spade
about to make that radial cut. Push the tines down in and through
the clump. This may involve jumping on the fork so wear boots or
hard soled shoes. It may be tough, yet easier than inserting a
spade blade since your weight will bear down on four small points.
That's more pounds per square inch, more piercing power!
Now put your friend's fork in along the same radius, but with
the back of its tines against the back of your fork's tines. Push
it all the way in.
Grasp the handles of both forks and push them apart. The four
tines on each fork will scissor across each other to shred the
clump like the formidable steel talons they are. Your force on the
handles will be amplified just like our high school physics
teachers told us it would, as they described the wonders of
Repeat the process to make many small pieces, or replant just
the first division and compost the rest. Send it to a municipal
compost site where they can handle it with heavy equipment and
hundred horsepower shredders! You need just one quarter or less of
the original behemoth to set back into the garden. Be sure to mix
in a volume of compost equal to the root mass you threw out.
In the future, knowing which perennials are toughest to divide,
don't let them go so long undisturbed. Silver grass can remain in
place for ten years or more but I only let that happen if I think I
won't be in charge of dividing it when the time comes. I know the
pain of spending half a day digging one eight year old clump of
zebra grass (Miscanthus zebrinus) out of the ground to
divide it. I'd rather expend less effort more often, so I divide
that lunker every three or four years.
The yuccas keep coming back...
...says D.F.C. Yes they do that, for many years unless you
dig deep to remove the majority of the woody tap root. Even then,
you'll have to snap off resurgent sprouts for a year or two.
What's rolling up the new sod every
...asks B.L. Raccoons, probably, looking to see if
anything's edible beneath. Grub killer's not the answer. A raccoon
will lift anything that's loose, just in hope of food, especially
if it's old hunting ground woods is now lawn. Use a fork to aerate
the soil before you relay the loose sod, so it can root more
Green thumbs up
to Master Gardener coordinator, Oakland County, Martha Ferguson.
May you transplant well and grow even more wonderful in the hills
of West Virginia. We'll miss you!
Green thumbs down
to those people who nag us about using a pick-up truck as it was
meant to be used. Scratches are a truck's badge of honor, and our
garden's worth it!
Originally published 9/13/03