How to Divide and Propagate Shrubs
By: Julie Day
We often hear about dividing and propagating perennials, but what about shrubs? While usually thought of as fairly permanent, some types of shrubs can be divided and propagated, if you know what to look for and how to go about it.A few years ago, my mom called to ask if I wanted an overgrown Japanese aucuba bush in her yard. What I found wasn’t a shrub, but a monster larger than I could reach around which had been growing undisturbed for 25 years.
Even after a severe pruning, the shrub and root ball pretty much filled my truck bed, so I decided to divide and plant it as several separate plants.
Here’s how I went about transplanting and dividing one large shrub into several separate plants for my yard.
Tree vs. Cane Type Shrubs
Shrubs can generally be divided into two types:
- Cane Shrubs: These are shrubs that have multiple shoots (known as “canes”) growing out of a single clump of roots. Cane shrubs constantly grow and regenerate their canes, and it may be possible to remove existing canes without causing damage to the new ones. Cane type shrubs include some aucuba, shrub dogwoods, forsythia, lilacs, nandina, potentilla, skimmia, and spirea. Depending on how they grew, it may be possible to divide and propagate these shrubs.
How to Divide and Transplant Shrubs
If you’ve determined that your shrub can be divided, the process is fairly simple:
- Shrub TLC: Water the transplanted shrubs every couple of days for several weeks until they start putting out new leaf growth, then cut back to weekly watering. When I say “water,” I don’t mean a puny sprinkle, let the hose run on each one for a minute or so. About once a month during the growing season, feed transplanted shrubs with a balanced organic fertilizer. Pinch plants back periodically to help new shrubs branch out.
Enjoy the Results
Three years later, you’d never know my Japanese aucubas started as divided transplants. They looked scrawny for the first season as they put down roots, but then they began to flourish.
If you’ve got the right kind of shrubs, division can be a great way to turn one shrub into many. It takes patience to get them established, but in the long run you can get a lot of bang for your gardening buck!