By Becki Pavlik
Dividing daylilies can be a simple project because they're very forgiving. As long as you have a section of root still attached to a crown, there's a pretty good chance that the plant will survive. Some things that need to be considered in this task are as follows:
How many divisions do you want to end up with?
Maybe your clump isn't blooming as much as it used to. Maybe it has outgrown it's current home. Maybe you just want some new divisions to put elsewhere. A large clump can be divided into halves, sections or even individual fans.
When is the best time to divide?
Ideally it would be in the spring. Spring offers more frequent watering via rain. It also provides milder weather which gives the divisions a settling-in period of adjustment. That being said, I've divided daylilies any time of year that the ground is workable including late fall and in the middle of 90 degree summers with a high degree of success by providing for their basic needs. (Good, loose amended soil, regular watering and protection from the elements.) I also like to work in the early morning as it provides milder temperatures for both the new divisions AND the gardener. But exceptions to the rule will still work with a minimum of at least regular moisture until they get settled. Also, I've found it very advantageous to the clump to water it well the day before. This allows the roots time to draw up moisture that will help them through the transplant process, makes it easier to get the clump out of the ground and reduces the amount of damage to the roots.
Where do you plan to replant the divisions?
You must have a place ready to replant your divisions before you divide your clump. Because as soon as you dig that clump out of the ground and expose the roots to the elements, the plant will begin to dry out. Have the new location ready, preferable in full sun or at least partial sun and ideally, the soil amended or at the very least, loosened.
What tools or equipment will you need?
At the very least, a shovel. In a pinch, I've made many divisions by simply stabbing through an outer section of a clump and prying it out of the ground. Replant and keep watered for a week or so and usually it will survive.
But to get the most divisions and increase the survival rate of those divisions, there are several preventative measures you can take but they do require more time and additional tools/equipment.
There are many varying opinions on this. I can only share my own experience with you based on what has worked for me in my zone 5 garden. As a Master Gardener and also one that likes to experiment and push the envelope, here is the method that I've used for years with the greatest level of success.
The day before: 1. Prepare the re-location bed. 2. Water the clump to be divided.
The day of division as early in the day as possible:
1. Fill a wheelbarrow half full of water and take it as well as a shovel, a pair of scissors or clippers and a sharp serrated knife to the clump to be divided.
2. Shear the foliage of the clump back so that you can better see what you are doing. (Most of it will turn yellow from the shock of the operation anyway. It will grow back.) A good rule of thumb is about 6-8 inches. Just enough to see what you're doing.
3. Stabbing straight down, dig a circle around the rootball at least a foot away and at least as deep as the length of the shovel blade. Then start to wiggle the shovel blade up under the rootball so that you can lift the whole clump out of the ground. If it's a really huge clump or you're working by yourself, it might be easier to use another shovel or board as a brace to get the clump out of the ground with. If so, stab your shovel in the ground and lay the board or additional shovel on the ground behind the inserted blade to use as leverage.
4. Once you've loosened the rootball and pried it out of the ground, remove as much soil around the edges and bottom as you can to make it lighter. Here comes the hard part. Heave the clump up and into your wheelbarrow. Or at least chop it in half. Whatever it takes to get it into the wheelbarrow of water. Take a break. If you've gotten to this point, by now you deserve one. The clump needs to soak a while in the water. (An hour minimum, overnight even better.)
5. Using your fingers, untangle the roots and pull off as much of the globs of soil as possible. You can expect some pieces of roots to fall away that you cut through while getting the clump out of the ground. Don't panic!
6.You may notice at this point that some divisions can easily be pulled apart. If not, remove the rootball from the wheelbarrow into a shady area of the yard and get out your serrated knife. Now is when to get a bit ruthless. Using the knife, I cut fans apart by first stabbing through some place where there is room and prying the pieces apart. Just so that each division has roots and a crown. Some folks like to make double divisions (two fans growing together) as this is how they are often sold.
7. Once I've made all the divisions that I can, I replant the division in the new location to the same depth as they were growing before, water well and tamp around the division to remove air pockets.
Why would someone want to go to all this trouble? FREE plants, that's why. Some large clumps can be split into as many as 2 dozen more plants and believe it or not, daylilies like to be divided. They may not be able to say it with words, but they show you with their 'smiles'.