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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
About that old center: We mean the stem base which is the
upper face of the thickest section of that root shown
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.
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
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
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