Living Columns & Blogs

Dividing water lilies a simple task, daffodils a bit more work

Water lilies come in a stunning variety and are simple to propagate.
Water lilies come in a stunning variety and are simple to propagate. Tribune News Service

QUESTION: I’m lucky to have a pond in my backyard, and over the years I have bought a few water lilies that are simply gorgeous. I’ve heard that I can divide them, and I know a few people who would be forever in my debt if I gave them starts. How do I do it?

ANSWER: It is simply stunning how many varieties of water lilies have been bred and are available for sale. They are fairly pricey, so I highly recommend you propagate the ones you have and encourage others to do the same. You can exchange!

Here’s how to divide them: Lift the water lily out of the water and pot.

Remove a “branch” from the rootstock, using a sharp knife. When replanting the new cutting, plant up by inserting the branch vertically.

It couldn’t be simpler!

QUESTION: I planted a bed of daffodils a few years ago, and they’ve done so well that now they seem to be too crowded. I’m not sure what to do or when to do it. Can you help?

ANSWER: Established beds of bulbs can be so successful that their flowering diminishes. That’s the result of too many offspring. Each one fights for limited nutrients and water. Lifting and dividing rejuvenates them, and provides you with bulbs you can plant in other places as well.

When the bulbs are well into die-back, use a garden fork to lift the whole clump, digging carefully around and under it to avoid spearing any bulbs. Pick a time when the soil is moist to make it easier.

Now, separate out the clump by hand, breaking it first into small groups, then into individual bulbs to minimize damage to the roots.

Check over the bulbs very carefully, looking for any signs of disease or damage. Discard any that are marked, pitted, holed or show signs of rot, so that you replant only healthy plants.

Prepare an area where you want to replant the bulbs, and set the bulbs in at their original depth, using the white portion of stem as a guide.

When replanting, space mature bulbs approximately twice their own width apart, placing the “babies” in between. Don’t you just love ways to make your own plants!

QUESTION: I spent a lot of money on pre-planted hanging container planters. Now I need to know some tricks to keep them looking as good as when I bought them.

ANSWER: Three essential elements need to be met to keep any potted plant looking good: nutrients, water and sun.

You can use slow-release fertilizer, or feed plants weekly with a high-potash fertilizer to encourage best blooms.

In warm or hot weather, containers will probably need to be watered daily. The best time is in the morning or evening, as there will be less evaporation. The easiest way to rehydrate a hanging basket is to soak it in a large bucket of water for half an hour or so.

There are several things that can make your life easier. One is to invest in a hose-end lance. It is specially designed for baskets, delivering a fine spray that waters quite well with ease to the waterer. Another possibility is a high-low pulley attachment, allowing you to lower the basket to water, then push it back into position.

If there is any room in the basket, mulch well to reduce water and nutrient evaporation. Pebbles make a nice mulch, but be sure to cover all exposed soil.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a lifelong gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to For more gardening information online, go to