You buy some flowers for your table; You tend them tenderly as you’re able; You fetch them water from hither and thither – What do you get for it all? They wither.
Samuel Hoffenstein (1890-1947)
Garden lore- dividing polyanthus
Polyanthus are cheerful little souls flowering away at this time of the year but often treated as disposable plants with a short life span. Yet they clump up quickly and are easily divided to spread wider to get a carpet or patch that obligingly flowers when few other perennials do. I planted white polyanthus last year, all single crowns with just one rosette of leaves. This week, even though they are in flower, I have been digging and splitting the ones that have already multiplied well – the clump in the photo yielded five good sized plants. When perennials are in full growth, they can recover quickly from being divided.
Lift the clump and look at the base of the leaves. It should be clear where the different rosettes of leaves have formed. Sometimes you can gently pull them apart at the base. Sometimes you need to cut through the nubbly root formation just below the top. Each clump needs as many roots as possible. Trim off the outer leaves and replant into well cultivated soil, enriched with compost if you have it. You only need to water them in if conditions are dry. The replants should romp away with fresh growth and reward you with extended flowering well into spring. If you put the plants at maybe 30cm spacings, they have room to grow and you can inter-plant with something else entirely that will flower through summer.
First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.