Dividing your plants

Many house plants grow larger by sending up young rosettes, suckers or stems from their roots or base. In time, such plants become huge, overcrowded and unsightly. Their health can also suffer, because overcrowded growth can quickly become diseased. The solution is easy, no special equipment is needed, and you get extra plants as a bonus. Even if you don’t want them for yourself, these young plants make ideal gifts for plant-loving friends, and your original ‘mother’ plant will have a longer, healthier life.

dividing-a-clump-of-plantsThis is the easiest way to increase your stock of house plants, and simply involves splitting a large plant into two or more rooted sections.

Although you can divide plants any time of the year, and you may want to divide a newly bought but obviously overgrown plant immediately, spring or early summer is generally best. You can combine division with repotting.

Removing the plant

In spring or early summer, remove the plant from its pot. Try to keep the rootball, together with its compost, in one piece. Carefully examine the plant to find a section that looks easy to detach, and that contains plenty of roots and top growth. First try using your hands to gradualy pull the clump apart. If this doesn’t work, use a sharp knife or small saw. Detach additional clumps in the same way, if wished.

Remove the plant from its pot when the compost is dryish. Run a sharp knife around the inside of the pot, if necessary, examine the plant to find young sections, complete with top growth and roots. If they won’t come apart by hand, use a knife or small saw.

To loosen any roots clinging to the pot. Using your fingers, a dibber or a pencil, gently tease any drainage material caught in the roots, and only as much compost as is necessary to expose the connections between the clumps.


repotting-a-cyclamenChoose a clean pot just large enough to hold the roots comfortably. Use fresh potting compost, of the same type used for the parent plant. Put a layer of drainage material in the bottom of the pot, if you are using a clay pot, then a layer of potting compost. Place the young

Use a pot just large enough to hold the roots comfortably, and suitable potting compost. Centre the plant and check levels before planting.

Plant in the middle of the pot, making sure it is upright and at the correct level in relation to the rim. Trickle compost through its roots, tapping the pot from time to time to fill air holes. When full, press down soil-based composts, but not peat-based ones, to firm. If the young plant is unstable, provide a temporary stake. Don’t forget to repot the parent plant!


Newly divided plants need a little time to get over the shock of division. Water lightly, then keep somewhere warm and out of direct sunlight for a week or so. If a newly divided plant wilts, increase its surrounding humidity, by putting it in a propagator or in a polythene bag.

After planting, water lightly. Provide warmth and protection from strong sunlight for a week or so, to give the plant time to recover.


It is better to tease apart roots by hand, hut this isn’t always possible. Some plants, such as Asparagus Fern, have dense root systems; others, such as Cast Iron Plant, have tough rhizomes. If necessary, use a sharp knife or saw. You can also use 2 hand forks, placed hack to back, to lever very tough roots apart.

Plants to divide

A house plant that forms rosettes or clumps of several soft, non-woody stems or stalks can usually be divided. Many ferns, cacti, orchids and bromeliads are suitable. The following are popular house plants you may want to try.

  • African Violet Saimpaulta varieties
  • Aparagus Fern Asparagus species
  • Bead Plant Nertera granadensis
  • Brake Fern Pteris species
  • Cast Iron Plant Aspidistra elatior
  • Cathedral Windows Calathea makoyana
  • Flamingo Flower Anthurium species
  • Grassy-Leaved Sweet Flag Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’
  • Kafir Lily
  • Mother-in-Law’s Tongue Sansevieria trifasciata
  • Prayer Plant Maranta leuconeura ‘Kerchovian
  • Queen’s Tears Billbergia nutans
  • Spider Plant Chlorophytum comosum ‘Vittatum’
  • Umbrella Plant Cyperus alternifolius
  • Urn Plant Aechmea fusciata

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