How to Divide Echinacea – Purple Coneflower


Echinacea Purpurea is a flowering perennial native to North America.  It is a very common landscaping plant for its long bloom time and for how showy it is.  One easy way to score free plants is to divide them in the Early Spring or Late Fall.  In this article I will tell you my process, which I have used successfully many times!  If you do it when the plants are dormant, or near dormant this process will be almost full-proof!

How to Divide Echinacea Snapshot-

  • Divide only plants that are 3 years old or older.
  • Divide in early Spring or late Fall.
  • Moisten soil, dig out plant, divide, plant in clumps, water.

Now, if after reading this guide you have any questions, feel free to ask me in the comments.  I will try to answer them!

Echinacea is a genus of flowers covering many species.  Of that genus, only Echinacea Purpurea has a fibrous root system and can therefore be divided.  All other species of Echinacea have a taproot, and it is best not to divide those.  Dividing plants with taproots can be done, but is very difficult and often results in the death of the plant.  So, this article will tell you how to safely divide Echinacea Purpurea, common Purple Coneflower.   If you are unsure of what coneflower you have, you can view some detailed pics of Common Purple Coneflower here, or Pale Purple Coneflower .

How large does Echinacea need to be before dividing?

You also should only divide mature plants that are at least 3 years old.  Typically I don’t divide any plant that is less than 6″ diameter (18 cm).  Smaller clumps can be divided, but you just need to be extra careful.

What time of year should you divide Echinacea?

The best time to divide Echinacea Purpurea is in Early Spring or Late Fall when the plant is either dormant (not actively growing), or nearly dormant.  When perennials are dormant, you can basically dig them up and move them to a new location.  Once the temperatures warm up and the growing season resumes, the plant will resume growing as if it had been in it’s new location the whole time!  Think of it like someone who falls asleep watching TV, wakes up an hour later wondering how they got there, and then just goes about their business.

There are some other reasons why Early Spring and Late Fall are the best time to divide Purple Coneflower.

  • The temperatures are cooler, meaning there won’t be much of a heat load on the plant.
  • Cooler temperatures also mean less evaporation of moisture on the ground.
  • The ground is generally moist, making keeping the plant hydrated less of a concern
  • The ground is easier to work, since the soil is generally moisture

When should you NOT divide Echinacea?

Do not divide Echinacea (or any other perennial) when they are blooming, or while they are forming seeds just after blooming.  It is also not a good idea to divide a plant when it has been actively growing for some time.  During blooming, or after blooming the plant is expending all of it’s available energy to making seeds, or making flowers.  Transplant shock at this stage can generally kill a plant.  So do not do it.

My general rule is that if the leaves are less than 2″ tall (5 cm), then I can divide it.  Otherwise, it has to stay put until the Fall or next Spring.

Tools for Dividing Purple Coneflower

You should have the following tools, or their equivalents before dividing Echinacea Purpurea

  • Spade or shovel
  • Small gardening shovel or trowel
  • Garden knife, or camping saw
  • Gloves
  • Topsoil or potting soil for backfill
  • Compost (optional)

Illustrated Guide for dividing Echinacea Purpurea, with Pictures

Please note that we have a short video showing this process at the end.  So be sure to view that so you can see the process in action!

1 – Find your Plant!  Locate your plant you wish to divide, and clear any debris or leaves away from it

2 – Make sure the soil is moist.  Water the plant and surrounding area thoroughly the day before you divide it.  However, if you know the ground is very moist, or this is in early Spring/Late Fall, you can skip this step.

3 – Dig out the plant.  Use your shovel to dig out the plant.  Start your shove about 2-3 inches outside of the plant (5-8 cm).  Dig at a 45 degree angle, working your way around the perimeter of the plant.  Once you have gone all the way around, start to lift the clump out of the ground.

4 – Knock away any excess dirt.  Use a trowel or small shovel to remove any excess dirt so that you can find the main portion of the plant.

If you are trying to maximize the number of plants you can get, soak the clump in a bucket of water, or rinse with a garden hose.  You will then be able to locate each individual clump.

5 – Divide the plant.  I like to use a small hand saw to cut through the plant.  But a strong garden knife or even a shovel (for extra big plants) can be used too.

6 – Plant your divided Echinacea Clumps.  Replant the halves, or pieces.  I generally replant one of them in the original location.  Then I find another spot to plant the other half.  You will likely need some extra topsoil or potting soil to help backfill the original plant.  Also, with Echinacea Purpurea this isn’t required, but any transplanted plant will benefit from having some compost added to the hole.

7 – Water your plants.  Always give the plants a drink of water after dividing and transplanting.

Well, that’s it!  You can check out some other gardening tips here, or read about more native plant profiles here!

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Joe Foster

Hi - I grew up outdoors in nature - hiking, fishing, hunting. In high school I got my first job at a garden center where I learned to garden and landscape. I've been growing plants from seed and designing native plant gardens for over six years. I hope to share some of my knowledge with you! Additionally I am a wood worker / DIY enthusiast. I enjoy designing/building projects (with hand tools when I can!). I hope to give you some tips and useful information!

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