Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Abies balsamea 'Nana'

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Divide and Propagate: Xerophyllum tenax

My large beargrass (Xerophyllum tenax) clump, which I mentioned here, has been looking a little congested for the last few years and I've finally mustered the courage to divide it. It was free, but it's also a bit sentimental and it's my only Xerophyllum, so I've been hesitant to do anything with it. Beargrass is known to be somewhat difficult in the garden, and I've been fortunate to have mine grow so well and even flower several times. They resent being moved and certainly do not approve of being divided!

The clump before dividing. It was probably a little over 2 feet high and wide.

After mustering my courage enough to commit to trying to divide the clump, I did some research. Not much is out there on dividing beargrass, and some of the few sources I did find said that all of their divisions died. Hardly a reassuring start. Finally, I did find one site that at least gave a time of year to try dividing beargrass. While I've never been particularly impressed with the information on this website before, I decided to throw caution to the wind and make the attempt. Besides, the recommendation was to divide it in spring, and I kind of wanted to do it now anyway. Convenient, that.

For once I assembled all the tools I would need BEFORE starting. I decided the two garden forks would work best to pry the clump apart. When handling beargrass, it is a good idea to wear gloves, as the sharp leaf edges can shred your fingers to ribbons if you aren't careful.


It was surprisingly easy to dig up, the root ball being only slightly larger than the top growth. Somehow I found a slightly more likely spot to make the first division, and in went the forks. It wasn't as difficult as I anticipated to prise the clump apart. Make no mistake, though, this is a plant that likes to stay in one piece. It's rather attached to itself.


After the first division I could actually see how the individual rosettes were connected by very short, thick rhizomes. I could also see new roots starting, so I think this really was the best time to attempt this questionable act. (In hindsight, though, I might have waited until after this week which is supposed to bring 80+ degree weather.)


There were a few casualties, growths that broke off without any roots.


I left 2 large clumps with good root systems and put them back in the same bed. I know it will grow in this bed and hopefully these clumps at least will survive.


These are the remaining divisions from the clump. The two with the big root balls I am hoping will do well. I have less confidence in the other four, particularly the single growths on the bottom with hardly any roots.


Five of the divisions went into a new bed (I don't think I've covered that project yet. Bad blogger! Who needs to see things in order anyway?) where I moved some things in desperate need of planting ANYWHERE (seriously, I just needed to get them in the ground somewhere, and this spot was already relatively clear). This bed has two persimmons that I grew from seed (I think the seeds were from 'Mead' persimmons, but who knows if they'll be any good for eating. At least they are good ornamentals.), two Calycanthus floridus, a pine seedling from a rather nice but poorly placed pine that used to grow in the bed in the middle of the circular driveway, three Kalmia latifolia 'Bullseye' placed near the center (I'm hoping the calycanthus and some of the other plants will help protect the kalmias from the deer, which will munch on kalmias with some gusto), and three sword ferns I removed from the wall in the driveway bed (when you have multiple acres of naturally occurring sword ferns, they can be a bit weedy). This bed is only a few yards away from Stump St. Helens, where the original clump of beargrass grew, so I am hopeful that some at least will survive.

No, it's not a pretty bed, and yes, it's full of weeds. I was lazy and didn't really do any prep on this bed. I just stuck everything in and crossed my fingers. This is close to the woods anyway, so I'm planning to let it be a little wild and will be using large, weed-smothering  groundcovers like Rhus aromatica 'Grow-Low' or Leucothoe.

 The final division went in front of a large rock in the bed between the back patio and the dry creek bed. One of the growths has flopped open, possibly from being released from the tightly-packed clump but more likely wilting from shock. I quite like it against the rock and hope that this division makes it.

I have no idea if any of these divisions will survive their traumatic experience, even the two large ones that stayed in Stump St. Helens. But given how frail the plant was when I first rescued it, I'm hopeful that at least some of these divisions will live. Needless to say, I'll be watching these closely (and anxiously) this summer.

8 comments:

  1. I hope all your divisions thrive. It's nerve-wracking doing something like this that you have no experience at. I planted four bear grasses, two last year and two several years ago. The two newest ones, which were planted only a couple of feet away from the older ones, died. Who knows why? At least I still have the two older ones that are thriving.

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    1. It is a gamble. Glad you have two that are happy. Not sure why the younger ones would die. It's a somewhat fickle plant.

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  2. Good for you for getting out there and doing this! I have one bear grass that I bought last year in a farily small pot. I was worried that it would get lost in the jungle of my garden so potted it up and it performed well. Now, where to put it? You are doing so much in your garden and I look forward to seeing what comes next!

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    1. One of the benefits of a big, mostly blank yard and existing plantings that need so much work is there's no shortage of things to do, and pretty much anything I do is an improvement! Ha! I look forward to what comes next, too! Whatever randomly chosen project that may be...

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  3. I hope your experiment is successful! I planted both of my bear grass plants right next to each other. When will I start paying attention to the size listed on plant tags?

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    1. You're just going for the "full" look. When I try that it ends up looking congested, or else it's the plants I like. I'm still figuring out plant combinations that can mingle without one smothering the other.

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  4. I have never tried beargrass but it always looks pretty at Timberline - Did you find "forking" them apart worked better than cutting them apart with an old serrated kitchen knife? I'm always afraid it's too aggressive to pull plants apart like that?!?

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    1. I tried working a knife into the mass and decided the forks would work better. Either way I would have cut through a few growths because they were so tightly packed. At least the forks made it easier for me to tease the roots apart rather than slicing through those as well.

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