Growing Concerns 568: Dividing Lavender, groundcover

Late Spring!

No need to buy new shrubs if you can turn an existing one into many


Dear Janet,

I have a HUGE lavender bush that is getting too big. Is there any hope for dividing this guy? The branches are like tough sticks, so I'm not sure how to even go about it, since I don't think I can do it the same way I would a hosta or lily.


Dear D.,

We think of lavender as a perennial herb, but it's a woody "sub-shrub." Divide it as you would any shrub including spirea, forsythia, potentilla, viburnum, lilac and rhododendron.

If it has more than one cane emerging from the soil, you will almost certainly be able to divide it immediately. Dig it up, find a stem that has grown its own separate roots, then cut or saw that part away from the main plant and replant both.

If the shrub has only one cane, you can still produce additional bushes through a process called layering, provided you can wait a year. To make a   layer, choose a flexible branch that can be bent down to touch the soil. Scrape a little of the bark from the portion of the limb that will rest on the ground. Then press that branch to the earth and weight it to hold it firmly in contact with the soil. You can layer just one branch or several.

Keep the layer(s) well watered. If possible, bend the tip of each layered branch and use soft rope to tie it to a stake so the tip points up. This speeds the rooting process. A layered branch will grow roots from the point of injury, usually within a year. You can then cut the rooted branch away from the parent plant and move it to a new location.

Dear Janet,

After removing four ash trees we have an area with some, not much, sun. This area is on the side of the driveway and we would like it to be maintenance free. What ground covers would work in this condition?


Dear B.J.,

The Big Three groundcovers are myrtle (Vinca minor), pachysandra (P. terminalis) and English ivy (Hedera helix). They deserve their status. They are evergreen so they suppress weed seed germination all year. They are aggressive, filling space quickly. They grow well in shade and in a wide variety of soils.

There are other groundcovers, however. Some offer more interesting leaf color, more flower power or are more friendly to small shrubs growing in their midst, shrubs like azalea or dwarf conifers that the Big Three would choke or smother over time. You might look into big root perennial geranium (G. macrorrhizum), big leaf forget me not (Brunnera macrophylla), lamium (L. maculatum) or pachysandra's North American cousin, Allegheny spurge (P. procumbens). Michigan's own David MacKenzie covers this topic very well in his book "Perennial Ground Covers" (Timber Press) and on his plant selection website,

There are no free lunches and no maintenance free gardens. Groundcover beds that seem carefree now got that way through a good start. They were weeded and watered well for two or three years at the outset.

Short report

"Silk flowers and sculpture" continues!

S.G. wrote to say, "Now, Janet, I agree that there's no such thing as a no-maintenance plant but really there is no such thing as no maintenance, period. After all, even silk flowers require rinsing off now and then and sculpture may need cleaning."

J.J.  adds, " I agree with you that plants aren't always the answer. I helped a friend with a privacy issue that involved blocking out a swingset and a chain link fence and keeping neighbors from looking directly into each other's back doors. It wasn't that the neighbors didn't like each other, just that seeing each other in their jammies, as they let their dogs out each morning, was not their thing."

"We didn't have much money, but even if we had unlimited funds, there was the problem of power and telephone lines directly above the place where anything large might logically be planted."

"Luckily my friend had in her basement a bunch of floor-to-ceiling shutters she'd taken off the house in a remodeling. Voila!   We mounted 2X2 stakes on the shutters then staked them into the ground with the shutters sitting up off the soil on small patio bricks to keep them from rotting out too soon. We placed the shutters to block the problem spots and 'instant privacy' was in place. With that problem solved, the 'plant' part of the garden should now be really fun to do."


Green thumbs up to

"knuckle walking" gardeners. If you garden on your knees and often work with one hand palm down on the ground as a prop, you're not knuckle walking and that's bad. A palm-down posture bends the wrist in a way that invites or aggravates hand and wrist problems including carpal tunnel syndrome. Knuckle walkers avoid that by making a loose fist of their free hand and then resting on those knuckles.


Green thumbs down

to walking in the garden when the soil is super saturated from all the recent rain. No weeding or tidying up is so important that it would justify the compaction your foot will cause.

Originally published 5/29/04