Dividing a bed of badly overgrown daylilies can be a daunting task, probably the reason our bed became so overgrown in the first place. While it’s recommended that division be done in the fall, after the lilies have finished blooming, early spring, before the bloom scapes begin to show, is also an option. In our case, the bed was in an awkward corner and hard to tend, so infiltrated with grass that weeding was impossible, so we decided the whole bed had to come out.

A daylily multiplies by growing new fans, with each containing tuber-like roots, a crown, and leaves. These fans multiply into clumps, with a clump eventually containing so many fans that they begin to compete for nutrients and to have fewer blooms. It’s best to get in there and divide the clumps before they need heavy equipment to wrench them from the soil, but alas, we let nature take its course and had clumps of two and three feet in diameter to deal with. If your bed is not in need of such extreme measures and your lilies are only slightly overgrown, dividing in place is practical. Just use a spading fork to peel fans from the existing clump.

Before getting into a bed, you’ll want to have an idea of what you plan to do with your new divisions. If you plan to keep them, you’ll want to have compost to amend the soil in their new location. If you plan to share your divisions with a friend or a plant sale, be prepared to give them a soak in a weak, nine-to-one bleach solution so you don’t pass on any unwanted pests. You’ll want to spread a tarp to lay out the clumps (we didn’t, and it got messy) and have a wheelbarrow or several trugs handy for the divisions. You’ll also need either a sturdy spade or garden fork and your garden hose, as well as a garden knife or dandelion digging tool if your lilies are very overgrown.

After loosening the soil around the clumps, work your fork or shovel underneath the clump as deeply as you can from all sides and remove the clump from the ground. Place the clump on its side on your tarp and remove as much soil as possible from the roots. Then hold the clump over the bed and give it a strong spray with the hose to remove the soil and help to release and separate the roots. Then, if your lilies are only mildly overgrown, find a section of two or three fans that have a natural separation or appear to want to separate from the clump and, with your fingers, untangle as many of the roots as possible. Grab a few fans with one hand and the clump with the other and twist and wiggle the fans until they separate from the clump. If your clumps refuse to separate, cut the top between two fans through the crown with your knife. We actually cut the clumps up as if we were slicing a pie.

Any really entangled clumps can be placed in a tub of water to soak for a few hours. Then you can more easily pull the roots apart. If you’re preparing roots to give away, dip them in the bleach water, rinse in plain water, then lay them out to dry. When I laid out my newly divided fans, I trimmed back the leaves to about six inches, just to make them easier to handle. After they dried off, I wrapped the ones I was giving away in newspaper and placed them in plastic carry bags.

When you’re finally ready to replant, dig a hole larger around and deeper than the roots. In the middle of the hole, build a mound of soil that will place the crown of your daylily an inch below the level of the surrounding soil. Place the daylily fans around on top of the mound, letting the roots drape down the sides to the bottom of the hole. If you have a clump of fans, it should be about the size of a head of cauliflower. If you have divided your clumps into bits with several fans in each, you can plant your new divisions in the same hole, leaving a space between them as you set them around the mound. Steady the lilies on top of the soil mound and slowly backfill the hole, being careful not to pull the daylilies deeper into the soil as you fill. Gently and lightly press the soil with your hand over the area where the roots are to firm it and then water the plants to settle the soil deeper down between the roots. Newly divided daylilies may not bloom until they reestablish their root systems, but once reestablished, they’ll return to full bloom and you’ll be all set for several years.