Organic gardener growing food and flowers, lovin' pollinators and birds.

Be Brave When Dividing Trilliums

Tricia's Great White Trillium in late April.

Happy National Wildflower Week!

How appropriate is it that today I conquered my fear of dividing a large trillium plant?

My friend and neighbor, Tricia, has been asking me to divide her Great White Trillium for the last month. She's unable to be in her garden at the moment, so the task fell to me.

The trillium, a wildflower found in Connecticut, is a beautiful spring ephemeral. It completes its entire life cycle before the trees leaf out and block the sunlight from reaching the ground. It usually disappears and becomes dormant when the weather gets hot.

Trilliums grow best in shady, rich soil. Their native habitat is woodlands, so try to recreate that type of soil to grow them in your garden. There are many different varieties of trillium but they all share three common characteristics: three leaves, three petals and three sepals.

The plants spread by underground rhizomes and form big clumps. I've divided other plants in the past, but I was really concerned about dividing this plant and inadvertently causing its death. So, I deferred to my gardening idol: Margaret Roach. On her website in a 2012 post, Roach gives the encouragement needed to divide trillium. She recommends a rainy day to do the dividing. It was overcast today when I headed over to Tricia's house with my shovel and pots. That would have to be close enough.

I first dug underneath the plant in a circle. The trillium grows along her house amongst hostas, so it was difficult to dig up the back part of the plant. I decided to just try and separate the rhizomes from the front of the plant instead of excavating the entire trillium. I was able to pull off the front half of the clump away from the mother plant.

This is the remainder of the mother plant that I left in its original spot.

Next, I teased the rhizomes apart from each other. I didn't even need my shovel to do this. They came apart easily in my hands.

I began to separate the rhizomes from the clump. Each piece is a new plant.

I potted up the ones that would be finding new homes and planted my share (a reward for my hard work!) in my garden. I dug a hole about 2 inches deep and placed the rhizome and roots inside. I lightly covered it with soil. At first, I wasn't sure if I should let the top remain exposed as iris rhizomes need to be, but after checking how my little red trillium looked, I decided to cover it up.) The transplants will need some attention until they settle in (for example, not letting the soil dry out). 

If you are like me and are lucky enough to have a generous friend share her gardening spoils with you, great! Otherwise, trilliums can be purchased in reputable garden centers. They should never be taken from the wild.

Learn more about wildflowers blooming in Connecticut now from my previous post.


  1. Well written with some critique, I would add it to my garden website.
    but I do all my dividing when they are dormant in late summer of fall. An alternative people should consider.
    The note to do it on or after a moist day (hydration) is important. I would also suggest cutting off the blossoms when you divide.

  2. Love your article and beautiful pictures. We are so lucky that kind people like you take the time to share their knowledge and experience with us.
    As for those who like to pompously critique others, we have saying in the UK - there is more than one way to skin a rabbit! I, for one will be dividing my triliums your way in future!
    Best wishes , B

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I am glad you enjoyed the story! Hope to see you in the future as well! :)

  3. Dividing them in the middle of peak bloom works however my own preference is to divide them after they have finished blooming so you don't disrupt this season's beauty. If you don't like the idea if marking them with a label and digging up the rhizomes after they go fully dormant you can catch them when they are beginning to senesce (turn yellow and looking tattered). That way you can still see what you are working with but only disturb at a time when they are going dormant anyway. Whatever works for you though.

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  5. Be Brave . . . and Be Smart! Before dividing a clump of Trillium, please look closely at the above photograph of the mother plant and notice stems appear to occur in pairs with generous spacing between each pair. This is significant.

    Look at the next photograph. It appears that each off-shoot rhizome has two or three stems.

    Today I lifted my modest clump of Trillium with five blossoms, thinking I would soon have five separate Trillium plants. Wrong.
    I found one offshoot ready to be separated.The remaining stems were connected to a singular core rhizome.

    With hindsight I realize I could evaluated the situation by looking for spacing between stems. Also, had I simply brushed the loose soil away from the plant it would have been possible to see that most stems were attached to core rhizome - without lifting the whole plant.

    Looks like my trillium needs to do some more growing before more offshoots are ready to divide.

    Thank you frauzinnie for your encouragement and the telling photographs.


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