Countdown to division

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Above: Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua) blooms from late July or early August until frost. To see this show in your garden, grow it in well drained, rich, moist soil and part sun. In shade, it will thrive but may bloom less well. In the sun its flower color pales; also, watering is critical -- don't let a sunny turtlehead dry out. 

Picture the process now to speed the work when

Athletes prepare for competition by visualizing their effort in minute detail. We like to think of gardening as a sport. So this time of year we're dreaming of dividing, picturing just how it will go.

Here are photos to help you make more of two very beautiful native plants, turtlehead and queen of the prairie. We divide them to keep the planting young and vigorous, to keep it from overstepping the space there is for it in the garden, and to give starts to friends.




Turtlehead (Chelone obliqua)

One clump can become many pieces. We lifted a clump
and rinsed the soil away so we could remove from it the
roots of a non-native, aggressive runner called
gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides).

Below: We can cut one clump of turtlehead to make these
two pieces, or keep cutting to make twenty new plants.


They're vigorous growers, turtleheads are. Every piece of subsurface stem or stolon with roots and a shoot will make a nice start for some spot that's rich, well-drained, continually moist soil and in part shade. The division on the right, above was just two stems last year but those two stems socked away enough starch to reproduce themselves and send 6 or 7 new stolons questing outward.

Below: One of the old stem bases of that division is marked with arrow A. (The second old stem is at the bottom right edge of the division, with two husky white stolons running left from it.) Each stolon will turn its beautiful point (B) skyward and become a new stem, to make its own half-dozen new bits. Which is why it's necessary to compost some pieces... but do cover your ears after you pitch them onto that pile!



Queen of the prairie (Filipendula rubra)


This queen's big and beautiful.

However, she's prone to develop mildew in late summer. Mildew's especially likely if the soil tends to dry out or is poorly drained.

Right: In full bloom in July her pink cotton candy tufts are about 5 feet tall.

Below, left: that same clump as bloom fades.

Below, right: After another couple of weeks, with stems and leaves dying back before their time, sapped by mildew.


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We've rinsed this root so we can show you how many pieces can be made from it, and why we'd discard the center.

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About that old center: We mean the stem base which is the upper face of the thickest section of that root shown above.
Below left: Here, you're looking straight down onto that center. If we had the flowering stem we could fit it back into the spot where it grew, like putting a peg in the hole. The point is, in that hole mildew spores probably reside. They were all over the stem, and thus will still be in that brown punky material -- what's left of that stalk.

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Above, right: We used the knife to slice straight down to show you that bit of the root in cross section.

Below: We can't help but admire what a good job this lady does of compartmentalizing decay. She didn't let it move far into her crown at all. This is a much better job than many other plants do when it comes to controlling infection running down from the stem and making a mess of the crown or roots.



 Not to make less of another queen of the plant world, but peony is one of those that can't hold a candle to queen of the prairie when it comes to barring infection. This big root Janet's holding was so pitted and hollowed by old infections that the only way to make worthwhile divisions was to cut it up, then wash the divisions well and dip each one for a minute in a 10% bleach solution.


So, are you ready to divide?

If you plan to divide something you can't visualize, ask in the Forum. Let someone to show you or tell you what the root of your target plants look like.

Any runner that creates offsets, like the queen, the turtle and the peony, is divided as they are. If it's a bulb like the Allium below, you simply need a different vision!


Note: Turtlehead is endangered in Michigan, Kentucky and Arkansas, and threatened in Maryland. Queen of the prairie is endangered in Illinois, Maryland, New Jersey and North Carolina, and threatened in Michigan and Iowa. In those places you may be in violation of conservation law to disturb the plants or collect seed from any colony of the area's native genotype. More about this restriction in Growing Endangered and the articles related to it including One Region's Lack and Native Plant Growers.