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Divide and Share

October 10, 2010

Geranium 'Biokovo' in need of thinning (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) One of the things I love most about gardening is the way favorite plants reproduce themselves, creating seedlings and divisions that I can share with others. Some plants in my Gettysburg garden barely survived the year of neglect while I was away on sabbatical; but for other plants, the absence of a disciplining hand was an opportunity to spread well beyond their allotted space. Chief among the offenders was Geranium x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo.’ This is a groundcover-type hardy geranium that spreads exuberantly by sending out shallow roots in all directions and that needs to be thinned regularly. It seemed to have tripled in size during my absence, and whole other plants had disappeared under its foliage. The Iris sibirica planted in the tiny circular flower bed next to my patio (see My Spring and Fall Garden) had also grown much larger. It was now more than 2 1/2 feet in diameter, pushing up against the edges of the wire fence that surrounds this flower bed and crowding the other plants.

So, on a mild and sunny Sunday morning, I set out to thin the geranium and divide the iris. I had posted a notice offering free plants on the electronic bulletin board at work the previous week, and more than two dozen gardeners and would-be gardeners had responded.

I decided to tackle the iris first. This was such a tangle of foliage that it was impossible to see what I was doing, so the first step was to cut off all the spent flower stems and cut the foliage back.

Messy tangle of iris foliage (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) Siberian iris with cut-back foliage (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Once I could see the edges of the iris clump, I set about trying to lift it out of the ground with my garden fork. As I did so, it began to fall apart, and I soon had four healthy divisions set aside to share. Siberian iris division (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Repositioned iris clump after division (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) The remaining clump was repositioned so that it had plenty of room to grow again and was no longer crowding the other plants

I next turned to thinning the hardy geranium. This is an easy task; you simply follow the foliage down to the root, pull up a few inches of shallow root and snap it off with your fingers. The resulting bare-root divisions quickly pile up into large clumps.

Bare-root division of Geranium 'Biokovo' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) A clump of bare-root Geranium 'Biokovo' (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
After a little over an hour of work, I had filled two plastic grocery bags with bare-root geranium divisions to share; A bounty of bare-root geranium to share (photo credit: Jean Potuchek)
Geranium 'Biokovo' after thinning (photo credit: Jean Potuchek) … and with the geranium now brought back within bounds, some missing plants had reappeared.

The next day, I brought my bags of iris and geranium divisions to work with me and distributed them to grateful co-workers. What a fun and easy way to spread beauty in the world!

25 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2010 4:43 pm

    What lucky coworkers you have! Of course you’re right that one must be rigorous about dividing proliferating perennials. Sometimes I find it hard to do it, though. I feel such admiration for the hardiness and will to live of those plants.

    • October 12, 2010 5:48 pm

      Barbara, I only find it difficult to divide the perennials if I don’t have homes for the divisions; I find it almost impossible to throw away perfectly good plants. Happily, the electronic bulletin board at the college where I teach readily puts me in touch with hundreds of potential homes for my divided plants. When I retire from teaching (in a few years :-)) I’ll have to develop a new system for “rehoming” my perennial divisions.

  2. October 10, 2010 4:56 pm

    What a busy weekend you had. And such lucky coworkers!

    • October 12, 2010 5:50 pm

      This wasn’t such a big job. The whole thing took about 3 hours — and that included stopping periodically to document the process with my camera. I honestly feel lucky to have so many gardener co-workers, and having a plant give-away in my office turns out to be a great way to meet kindred spirits.

  3. October 10, 2010 7:56 pm

    I need to get a job where you work. I do the same at school. Our hosta and ligularia are working their way across NE Ohio. jim

    • October 12, 2010 5:51 pm

      Jim, Too bad we don’t live closer to one another; I would happily trade some Geranium ‘Biokovo’ for some hosta divisions. I believe I may be personally responsible for all the geranium ‘Biokovo’ growing within a 60-mile radius of Gettysburg, PA!

  4. October 10, 2010 9:44 pm

    One of the best parts of gardening–the sharing of plants with others, and receiving ‘passalong plants’ that come with their own stories and histories.

    • October 12, 2010 5:53 pm

      Jodi, I’ve been discovering that the stories flow the other way, too. My “free plant” announcement provided an opportunity for several people that got plants from me the last time I did this at work to get in touch and tell me how their plants are doing.

  5. October 11, 2010 5:43 am

    Hi Jean,

    Each time I visit your blog I have a poke around and this time I visited your professional “About me”. I was very interested to see the fields in which you work – for a few reasons. Some of those are:

    Our daughter Sarah’s thesis, goodness knows how long ago, was entitled (something like) “The Casualisation of the Labour Market and its Effects on the Women of South Auckland”. She went on to work her dream job as a policy analyst in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and now woks for the Ministry of Education. Sarah has always been a champion for women’s rights.

    We also have a good friend here in Wanganui who does much volunteer work for Women’s Refuge and is heavily involved in the protection of families and families at risk as well as education to help avoid these conditions.

    It’s really nice to meet a sociologist in another country working with these same issues. We need more of you. I’m pleased we share an interest in gardening, photography and the nature of people.

    Best regards

    Terry D

    • October 12, 2010 5:58 pm

      Terry, How nice to know that we have so many interests in common. Sarah’s story particularly interested me because, when I began grad school in sociology, my goal was to become a policy analyst. My grant required that I do some teaching to earn my keep, and I got totally hooked on teaching. When I first began blogging, I didn’t expect it to involve my sociologist self; but I quickly learned that, once developed, the sociological eye is not something you turn off. My garden blogging/blotanical experiences have led me into a new research project on the gendered meanings of gardens and gardening (and garden blogging).

  6. October 11, 2010 8:50 am

    Jean, you are so kind, and at least the people are grateful. I offered some artichokes to people I work with, and they told me where I could stick them!

    • October 12, 2010 6:00 pm

      IG, Maybe one of the advantages of working at an institution of higher education is that I have more refined co-workers? 😉 Seriously, I suspect it helps that I didn’t try to press any plants on anyone who did not respond to my announcement by volunteering.

  7. October 11, 2010 10:10 am

    You have a sweet and generous spirit to share your plants! I bet your co-workers were so happy to receive these plant divisions.

    I am always scared to dig up my Iris’. They intimidate me.

    • October 12, 2010 6:03 pm

      Rosey, I know what you mean about the irises. Siberian irises are much easier than bearded irises, because they grow from fibrous roots and you don’t have to worry about rhizomes and ‘eyes.’ The one time I tried to divide my mother’s bearded irises, my attempts to identify the eyes from which new flowers would grow was 180 degrees wrong. The following spring, none of the irises that I had replanted in her garden bloomed, but the ones I had discarded in a pile by the side of her shed burst into flower!

  8. October 11, 2010 2:15 pm

    I wish I lived closer to you, Jean! I would be first in line! I think I should be ashamed, since I don’t have one single Iris sibirica in my garden, although it is my countryman, sorry, should I say countryplant?

    • October 12, 2010 6:06 pm

      Tatyana, I adore siberian irises, but I wonder how they would do in your Pacific Northwest garden. As befits their heritage, they seem happiest when they have the benefit of serious winter. I think the unusual heavy snow that the mid-Atlantic region got last year may explain why my siberian irises in Gettysburg grew so much in my absence.

  9. October 11, 2010 5:45 pm

    Good for you on getting after those irises. I’ve done that once and they need it again, but I think this year it will be early spring. Haven’t divided geraniums before, but you make it look easy. Lucky co-workers.

    • October 12, 2010 6:07 pm

      Adrian, LOL, I didn’t really have any choice about getting after the irises. The flower bed they are in is only 3′ in diameter and the clump of irises had grown to more than 2 1/2 feet! When I dug them up, I found daffodil and hyacinth bulbs tangled in their roots.

  10. October 11, 2010 11:54 pm

    You are doing your part to beautify the world! I am sure your coworkers are very grateful of your generosity. The geranium is a lovely plant, and now it and its neighbors can breathe better.

    • October 23, 2010 1:45 pm

      Deb, It is nice to have enthusiastic co-workers with whom I can share plants. I agree that Geranium ‘Biokovo’ is a lovely plant; that’s why I am willing to live with its over-enthusiastic spreading tendencies. It would be easier if I were ruthless enough to just pull them up where they’re not wanted and throw them away — but I can’t bear to throw such lovely plants away.

  11. October 15, 2010 6:30 pm

    I bought geranium Biokovo this summer on your recommendation Jean, and it has already doubled in size. Guess I didn’t need to buy two, I could have just waited a little bit, lol.

    • October 23, 2010 1:50 pm

      LOL, Deborah, two plants is what I started with. In another few years you too may have geranium Biokovo edging the front of flower beds all over your garden and be advertising on the internet for people to give away your thinnings to. I hope when that day comes, you don’t curse me for recommending this plant to you. I do love them, but when I went out to look at that part of the garden a few days ago, it seemed as though they had already started filling in again — only 3 weeks after I thinned them out!

  12. October 15, 2010 7:57 pm

    Your coworkers are lucky to have you in the office! It’s interesting to envision that the gardens of people around you will have some of the same plants you have in your garden. Every now and then I take in spare cuttings or plants to my office as well. Our spot to share stuff is usually occupied by food, so any gift of plants usually has to be labeled “Not Food!” so people don’t go trying to snack on some exotic plant from my garden.

    • October 23, 2010 1:53 pm

      James, One of the nice things about working at a college is that there are easy ways for me to connect with employees all over campus. If I had to rely on just giving away plants to people in my department, or even in my building, by now they might be running the other way when they see me coming!

  13. moss permalink
    May 24, 2014 7:54 pm

    Thanks so much, I was wondering how to divide my geraniums. have a great spring!

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