The Perennial Problem Of Overgrown Perennials

By Mary Ellen Ellis | November 15, 2022
Image by Valeriy_G
by Mary Ellen Ellis
November 15, 2022

Managing perennials is one of the many ongoing chores of gardening. By their very nature, they keep going, which means after a period of time they can become overgrown. I try to keep on top of mine yearly, but sometimes they get away from me and something has to be done.

Dividing and Conquering

Dividing perennials is a dreaded chore for me simply because it’s physically demanding. It’s not easy digging up roots. This past year I tackled a bed of overgrown orange daylilies I had been putting off dividing for a few years.

The chore was past due. The plants started to look crowded and a little unhealthy. I spent a day pulling up clumps and carefully dividing the roots. There are several things you can do with the divisions from an overgrown bed:

  • Toss them out in the yard waste bags. This is the easiest, of course.
  • Add them to a compost pile, but I don’t keep one.
  • Give them to friends and neighbors. One year I picked up some nice hosta divisions after a neighbor left some out on the curb for any takers.
  • Create a new bed. This is what I did last year, creating a corner bed in a previously undeveloped area of the yard.

Other perennials that have benefited from the chore of dividing over the years include astilbe, hosta, columbine, and black-eyed Susan.

Hostas are my favorite plants to divide. They come up fairly easily, and I can almost always find someone to take the divisions, whether it’s a neighbor or a family member who also loves gardening.

Dividing and sharing hostas is how I’ve ended up with some more interesting hosta varieties, now favorites in my beds:

  • Blue ‘Elegans’ with its large, striking leaves in this truly unique shade
  • ‘Undulata’ with its uniquely wavy leaves
  • The very upright ‘Lancifolia’
  • A variety whose name I don’t know but which has pretty variegated leaves in yellow, green, and white.

Cutting Back and Conquering

For yearly upkeep of perennials in danger of overgrowing, I cut them back in the fall. It’s easier than dividing, and I feel less guilty when I simply toss the pruned off pieces into the yard waste bag.

Every fall I trim back several of my perennials, including the columbine, daylilies, hostas, and the peonies, but only after a hard frost.

Overgrown perennials can be the bane of the gardeners’ existence, which is why upkeep is so important. Face it sooner rather than later to avoid extra work.

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