Question from Shushilla:
My clivia is severely rootbound, basically there is no more soil in the pot. If I cut through the roots to separate, will I kill the plants? This has been planted for at least 8 years and I have 3 other pots in the same condition. Thanks so much
Answer from Pat:
Clivia (Clivia miniata) can be divided any time after bloom. After many years in a container, these drought-resistant, fleshy bulbs native to South Africa will become seriously root-bound just as you describe. In a sense, they eat up all the soil in the pot so that there seems to be nothing left but roots. Despite this bad state of affairs, clivias don’t mind this condition and often bloom better when crowded. Eventually, however, there comes a time when the soil really is all gone. all irrigation water drains off, and the plant shows evidence of stress. When this begins to happen you know it’s time to divide.
October is the last month of the year when clivia can be safely divided and still bloom the following year. For this reason, October is the customary month for dividing them. You can wait until October if you wish—your plants won’t die in the meanwhile— but technically clivia can be divided any month after bloom. This means you can do the job now in June if you so desire. Getting clivia out of a treasured ceramic container without breaking the container can be a struggle but it can be done nonetheless if you know the following trick. Here is a step=by-step explanation of the best and sometimes the only way to remove an old clivia from a ceramic pot short of breaking the pot:
First, cut around the edge of the root ball by sawing up and down with a sharp or serrated knife between the roots and the pot. Then force water from the hose up the drainage hole to loosen the bottom of the rootball. Next place the pot on its side on the ground, sit on the ground yourself, put your feet on the edge of the pot and grab hold of a big handful foliage in each of your gloved hands. Then while pushing against the pot with your feet, pull with all your strength on the leaves until the plant finally—and usually suddenly— pops out of the pot and you perhaps roll backwards on the ground. One of the most popular TV segments I ever did was the one in which I got down on the ground and demonstrated this technique. I forget who taught me this method, but sometimes it’s the only way to force an old clivia out of an old and treasured container, like my huge old Bauer, terra-cotta pot I bought at a garaged sale forty years ago. It’s the same one I used for the TV demo, it’s still filled with clivia, and there’s not a crack in it. Come to think of it, it’s about time those clivias need dividing again, but this time I have to find someone else to get down and dirty and do the job.
Once you get the monster out, then cut the individual plants apart using the same knife you used for loosening the roots from the pot. Once you get the job started you will usually be able to pull the rest of the individual plants apart with your hands. Many roots will fall off. Just throw these away. It will not hurt if you destroy some roots. Indeed it’s inevitable. Cut off any dead, damaged, or long dangly roots to about six or eight inches in length. Root pruning is a necessary part of replanting many bulbs. I have often replanted clivia when only three short roots were still attached to some of the smaller plants. They still did just fine and none died. Also, clip off any dead or damaged leaves brush off the old soil, and lay the newly divided plants on sheets of newspaper while you prepare the pots.
To do this, put a piece of broken crockery over the drainage holes of new containers, fill them with fresh bagged potting soil, mix in a handful of organic fertilizer, and replant the bulbs with leaves attached, three to a pot. . Place all the pots in a shady place with bright light. Keep watered and once they are growing well, fertilize regularly until the end of October. Often I have so many divisions, I plant them in the ground. Thus many of the shady places in my garden are now carpeted with clivia. Plants will bloom again in February or March. Having written all this to you, I suddenly thought “this demo must be in my book—all my old TV segments are in there!” So I looked it up and—Voila— found the step-by-step method neatly boxed on page 346.
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