A week of unseasonable warmth and brilliant sunshine has catapulted this year’s springtime floral display. In only a matter of days, it appears as if every tree and shrub has suddenly exploded into bloom.

A week of unseasonable warmth and brilliant sunshine has catapulted this year’s springtime floral display. In only a matter of days, it appears as if every tree and shrub has suddenly exploded into bloom.


Colorful splashes of sunny yellows, fiery oranges, luscious pinks, rosy purples and glistening white have magically transformed our dormant landscapes into a momentary spectacle of unparalleled beauty.


The showy, satiny flowers of magnolias are sensational this season, unscathed by the typical frosts that often singe their voluptuous blossoms. A profusion of lovely pink cherry and plum (Prunus spp.) blossoms creates a fairyland of delicate, fleeting beauty.


Magnificent clouds of pure white blossoms on perfectly-formed ornamental pear trees (Pyrus) line our streets and beautify both urban and residential areas. Nearly every landscape boasts stunning mounds of rosy-purple PJM rhododendrons.


As the distinctive blooms of dogwoods (Cornus florida) begin to unfurl, disclosing their charming clusters of notched white or pink bracts, a new wave of springtime splendor prepares to emerge.


Despite the overwhelming beauty of this year’s springtime floral exhibition, our current lack of moisture is cause for concern. A few brief periods of light sprinkles were all Mother Nature could muster over the weekend as unusually dry conditions for early spring have sparked brush fires and caused many lawns and plantings to become drought-stressed while summertime warmth has dramatically accelerated the progression of flowers and foliage growth.


Cold, wet soils are usually a perpetual complaint for local gardeners in early spring, but as I raked the powdery dry surface of my perennial borders, I mentally performed a ritualistic rain dance, hoping the predictions for substantial moisture in the coming week will come to pass and revive my parched lawn and gardens.


As I continue my never-ending spring ritual of cleaning and weeding my perennial borders, I make note of overgrown and misplaced plants. Early May is an ideal time for dividing and transplanting perennials when plants are just beginning to break dormancy, temperatures are cool, and moisture is usually more consistent.


As a rule of thumb, early spring-bloomers are best divided and transplanted in autumn and fall-bloomers in spring. Plants that flower in between can usually be split in either season.


When possible, transplant on calm, overcast days, during periods of damp weather, or in the evening, to give the plants time to recover before they are subjected to sun and heat. When soils are dry, a thorough soaking of the root system a day or two prior to the proposed division or transplanting will lessen the shock of disturbing the plant’s roots.


Nearly all perennials benefit from regular division to rejuvenate overgrown plants. Some plants with shallow root systems require only a gentle tug to be easily lifted, and new plants can be formed by gently pulling segments apart. Others, especially overgrown ornamental grasses, Siberian iris, daylilies, and hosta, may demand more ruthless action including a saw or an axe to separate dense, woody, overgrown clumps.


There are a few perennials that prefer division at specific times of the year. Ornamental grasses should be divided and transplanted in spring, bearded iris perform best when split during August, and division of peonies is best done in late autumn. Some perennials are difficult to divide successfully due to brittle root systems or because they form taproots, including bleeding hearts (Dicentra), lupines, butterfly weed (Asclepias), balloon flower (Platycodon), and Oriental poppies (Papaver).


Overgrown clumps of perennials such as hostas, daylilies and Siberian iris are often best lifted in their entirety, which can be a major undertaking. Once out of the ground, I prefer to lift and drop the clump multiple times on a large tarp to dislodge as much of the soil from the dense root system as possible which greatly facilitates separating the plants.


Large, unwieldy clumps can be tackled by inserting two pitchforks, back-to-back, into the clump and pushing against one another to initiate the splitting process. A screwdriver is handy for smaller divisions. 


I have sacrificed several old kitchen knives to assist in the division of dense, tightly knit perennials. A knife should be used only to cut through the crown of the plant (about 1 inch deep, where the leaves meet the roots) and then divisions eased apart to minimize severing roots.


Old, woody sections from the bald center of clumps of ornamental grasses, Siberian iris, sedum, chrysanthemums and tall phlox, to name only a few, are often best cut out and discarded and the outer, younger, healthier divisions replanted.


Spring division may disrupt the bloom cycle for some plants and others may require a season to fully recover but routine division will ensure healthier plants. Be sure to replenish depleted soils with organic matter before replanting and water transplants thoroughly and often until reestablished.


Divide and transplant as early in the season as possible. As the season progresses and leaves and root systems expand, transplanting and especially division are more likely to shock emerging plants.


Although wilting is normal for uprooted plants, some may be unable to recover later in the season, especially those growing in full sun. I prefer to transfer some of my transplants into pots, holding them in filtered shade until they fully recover. Since every open space is then quickly filled with one of the latest new plants that I just had to try, friends, family, garden club plant sales, and garden visitors often become the beneficiaries of these orphans. My most treasured plants are those shared with me by fellow gardeners.


Suzanne Mahler is an avid gardener, photographer and lecturer who has been developing the 1.5-acre property surrounding her home in Hanover, Mass., for more than 30 years. She is a member of two local garden clubs, past President of the New England Daylily Society, an overseer for the Massachusetts Horticultural Society and is employed at two garden centers.