Digging Crinums

donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)August 6, 2009

I have never done this before, but have seen the "broken shovel picture galleries". I am wondering if anyone here has done it and has any tips. Is it best to dig up the whole clump or is it possible to remove offsets without disturbing the whole clump? Is there a better time of year than other?

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I hate to say it, but there IS no "good" time to dig 'em - it's rough going, esp. with old clumps, any time of the year! Now's probably a great time, as far as the plants are concerned, but hot, sticky, and mosquito-ridden here, and probably where you are, too. I've been putting off doing this all summer and am going to have to bite the bullet and go for it pretty soon.

Anyway, I've not had good success with just digging offsets - most times they're attached so far under the original bulb that it's impossible to separate them without either losing the bulb plate (where the roots attach) or severing part of the parent bulb. The best method I've found is to dig a trench all the way around the clump so that you can see where the base is, then going underneath with the shovel and lifting the whole clump; sometimes you can tilt it sideways and remove offsets at this point, rather than lifting it entirely. Sorry (for both of us)that I don't have an easier answer!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2009 at 4:23AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

It helps to know what I am up against, at least. My clumps are only about five years old, and I am thinking maybe I should thin them before they get so big that it's beyond me. Do you think that makes sense? Thanks for the response. I would not have known how the offsets are attached. I will be very careful of them and the mamas too. They really are some of my most cherished plants.

    Bookmark   August 9, 2009 at 9:17PM
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Hey Donna - I'm not sure thinning is ever necessary with Crinums, as it is with Iris and other perennials. I think the only reasons worth digging the clumps are propagation, soil amendment (and even this I'd accomplish by shoveling compost into a side trench, rather than replanting), or maintaining size. The best clumps of Crinums you'll see are those in front of old homes (or the remains thereof), and you know they haven't been touched in decades! Remember also that they'll sulk for a year or two after being divided, so you have to take this into account as well.

My reason for needing to dig a couple of clumps (I still haven't done it, and the clock is ticking...) is that they're being shaded out by tree growth; it's either move the crinums, or cut down the trees. I'd suggest leaving well enough alone, in this case; if you have time on your hands and are itching to dig crinums (or repot about 500 hellebores, or weed hundreds of pots of Zephyranthes seedlings, or rebuild a greenhouse...), come see me - I'll put you to work!

    Bookmark   August 11, 2009 at 4:49AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

Well, then. Thanks, bubba. I may just leave well enough alone, other than lifting a couple of clumps that I no longer have room for. I always have friends begging for starts, so I thought I'd take care of that at the same time. Not now.
Five HUNDRED hellebores? What on earth will you do with them all? Do you have a nursery? Actually, I bet I'd learn an awful lot working at your place, but I manage to stay mighty busy with mine. :)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2009 at 1:20PM
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I thought it was a long shot - good, knowledgeable help is so hard to find! As for the hellebores, that's an obsession (one among many) that has very few outlets - I give away a lot once they're blooming (nobody wants them unless they are), especially the ones that don't further the breeding goals toward which I'm aiming, but mostly it stems from an inability to discard seeds or cuttings of any kind (hence the hundreds of rain lilies languishing in pots as we speak as well). It's a healthier addiction than many, at least.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2009 at 3:31AM
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donnabaskets(Zone 8a, Central MS)

If I lived just a wee bit closer, I'd be tempted to pull out my "Will Work for Bulbs" (or Hellebores, for that matter) sign! :)

    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 3:58PM
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After many sweat and cuss filled years of digging Crinum I have come up with a method that works for me. I can dig a really large colony in about 20 minutes with minimal cussing.

You will need three items: A bungie cord, a fiberglass handled garden spade and a fiberglass handled trenching shovel. The trenching shovel is about 4" wide and has a goose neck handle. It is used to clean out trenches after a Ditch Witch runs through.

First take the bungie cord and wrap it around all that foliage that is in your way. This minimizes the cussing because now you can see where you are digging.

Second, take the garden spade and stand off from the clump and dig deep enough to get below the base of the bulbs.

Third, take the trenching shovel and start shaving the dirt in front of the bulbs and use this to extend your hole around 2/3 of the clump. Because of the goose neck handle, it is very easy to get in there and do this and because it is only about 4" wide, you aren't digging an enormous pit in your landscape. Soil removal is minimal. The goal here is to cut as many of those heavy duty feeder as possible.

Finally, making sure you're underneath the base of the bulbs, jam the trenching shovel in there under the bulbs and start rocking the clump and it will break free in a few minutes. If you only want an offset to replant somewhere, , you won't need to dig 2/3 around the clump, just a couple of inches to either side of the offset. just get the shovel under that offset and rock it off and refill the hole.

By not digging the entire clump for one offset, you won't have disturbed the Mother bulbs and the will bloom like nothing happened next year. Also, if an offset breaks off with no roots it will survive as long as the basal plate is largely intact. It will be slow but it will survive. If you slice a bulb with no basal plate, no matter how big the bulb is just toss it on the compost.

Crinums should never be thinned unless there is a reason. The longer a clump is left to its own devices, the more flowers youwill have each year.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2009 at 5:38PM
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