How to Divide and Transplant Salvia

I’m spellbound by salvias. Several members of the Lamiaceae family dwell in my gardens.

Of course, I grow common sage for culinary and medicinal purposes. My Russian sage works to attract pollinators for my fruits.

Lemon balm and mints of all kinds stand guard, protecting the precious bare ground underneath.

A close up vertical image of flowering salvia growing in the garden pictured in light sunshine. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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And although my Salvia nemorosa, or woodland sage, shares some of these functional purposes, I choose to grow it purely for pleasure.

Its feather-like foliage releases earthy aromas as my legs brush by. The violet spikes appear sharp and fierce, yet delicate at the same time – like a vulnerable Valkyrie.

Something about salvia tugs at my heart, causing a little lump to form in my throat that I can only describe as a primal urge to perform magic.

So, I’ll admit – when it’s time to divide my salvia, I become giddy with excitement.

If you’re wondering if you can divide your own plants, the answer is yes. And there are a few good reasons to do so.

You can control the size of an overgrown plant or rejuvenate a tired-looking one. Or propagate babies from an especially precious variety to populate other corners of your garden or share with friends.

I’ve got my book of spells (my plant journal) open to the page that explains everything you need to know about splitting and transplanting salvia.

This is the wisdom I’ll share:

Ready to get started? Grab your magic wand and let’s go.

When to Divide Salvia

To keep your salvia looking healthy and vibrant, plan to divide it every two to four years, depending on the variety.

The best time of year to divide is in the spring or fall when the plant is dormant. This helps it to focus more energy on growing new roots and leaf tissue.

The worst time to divide is while salvia is flowering or when it’s really hot and dry outside, as this will cause unnecessary stress to your plant.

A close up horizontal image of a large clump of flowering salvia growing in a garden border.
Photo by Tabitha Caswell.

Here in Zone 5b, I’ve split and transplanted in both the spring and fall with success. But a smart plan for most of you is going to be to aim for early spring.

This means you should start by taking good care of your plants through the summer.

Remove faded bloom spikes and water consistently to keep it healthy, prepping it for the best chance of successful division when you see the first signs of new growth the following year.

Spring is always a busy and chaotic time for me with garden clean-up and prep work, so I make notes for things like this – in my book of spells, of course!

If you keep a gardening journal or calendar, add it to your spring to-do list so you don’t forget about your good intentions with your salvia.

And if you don’t own one already, check out our roundup of the best gardening journals to add one to your bookshelf!

How to Prepare

Plan ahead to ensure a successful division and transplant. Here are some tasks to think about:

Gather your tools and supplies. You’ll need a shovel and a sharp cutting tool in case the root ball is dense.

Sometimes I use my trusty Barebones Ultimate Hori Hori, which you can find at Amazon. Or, read more about the best hori hori knives here.

Barebones Ultimate Hori Hori

If you’re planning to transplant into pots or containers, make sure you have them on hand, along with some potting soil for container-growing.

Try Burpee’s Premium Organic Potting Mix.

A close up of a bag of Burpee Organic Potting Mix isolated on a white background.

Burpee Premium Organic Potting Mix

If you’re transplanting into your gardens, think about where you want to put the new divisions.

My salvias welcome visitors at the entrance to my gardens, along paths, and at the bases of my birch trees.

They add fun pops of color and release their earthy scent when their foliage is disturbed by legs brushing past. Get creative and plan for new, unexpected spots!

A horizontal image of light purple salvia growing in a garden border under a birch tree.
Photo by Tabitha Caswell.

Once you know where you want to plant your new divisions, dig and prep the holes. This minimizes the length of time roots spend out of the soil.

Estimate the size of your divisions, and dig each new hole about twice the size of the root balls.

Water the clump to be divided and the surrounding soil the day before you get to work, especially if the ground is dry. If there are a few days of rain in the forecast, this is the perfect time to divide and transplant.

Working on a cloudy, overcast day is the best because you won’t have the hot sun bearing down on exposed roots, drying them out.

Dividing Your Salvia Plant

Depending on the size of your plant, you can divide your salvia into several small baby plants or split it into two or three medium-sized plants.

Salvia is usually cooperative either way, so decide how many clumps you’ll finish with.

If you’ve got all your supplies and you’re ready to go, follow these steps:

  1. Use your shovel to dig around and get underneath the roots.
  2. Lift the plant out of the ground with your shovel or fork.
  3. Loosen the soil on the root ball and shake some of it away to get a good look at the roots. You might see natural places to make your divisions.
  4. If you can pull or tease the roots apart with your hands, do it. If the root ball is dense, cut the roots with a sharp knife or your shovel/spade. I use my hori hori knife for this step.
  5. Each division, or new plant section, should have several good shoots and a portion of the root system attached. Keep the divisions shaded and moist until they’re replanted.

Transplanting Divisions

Whether into a pot or the ground, it’s best to immediately replant the divisions.

If you split your plant into many small pieces, it might be a good idea to put them into little pots and tend them through the summer, then transplant them in the ground in the fall.

A close up horizontal image of a gardener using a watering can to water a potted plant on a patio.

This will keep the roots protected and safe while they develop for a season under your careful watch. You can move them in and out of the sun and water as necessary, giving you more control.

If you split larger chunks, you can safely transplant them directly into their new locations or give some away.

A close up vertical image of purple and violet salvia flowers growing in a garden border.
Photo by Tabitha Caswell.

Salvias prefer average soil with good drainage.

Heavy clay soil can slow root growth and contribute to root rot problems, so in this case feel free to add some compost to the soil in the planting hole to help your divisions settle into their new homes.

Water in your transplants. Give them a good initial soak and continue daily for about a week if you don’t receive sufficient rain.

Keep the freshly planted divisions watered on a regular schedule through spring and summer.

Remember that most new divisions won’t bloom quite as well until the next season. If you notice some stunted behavior, don’t fret! Your plants will be glorious next year.

Tips for Care

These are some general tips for caring for your salvias that can be especially valuable if you’ve just divided your plants.

A close up horizontal image of flowering salvia pictured in morning sunshine.
Photo by Tabitha Caswell.

During the summer, remove faded bloom spikes to encourage continuous flowering.

If plants begin to flop or look generally unsightly in the middle of summer, try cutting back to the basal foliage. This may trigger new flower stem growth from the base of the plant.

After the last blooms of the season are spent, don’t cut the stems all the way down to the ground. Cut the flowers off to tidy the plant, but leave at least four to five inches of stem intact. 

In preparation for winter, place a thin layer of mulch over your salvia to prevent injury from harsh freezes.

A half inch of wood chips or straw is plenty – just enough to protect from extreme conditions. Remove the mulch in early spring to wake the plant up.

Learn more about how to grow salvia in our complete guide.

Spells for Splitting Salvia

That’s everything you need to know about when and how to divide your salvia, including steps for transplanting. I even shared my secret tips for encouraging healthy and robust plants!

A close up horizontal image of dark purple salvia flowers pictured on a soft focus background.

I hope you’re feeling confident enough to try it on your own. Let us know in the comments section below, and feel free to ask any questions!

If you found this article helpful and you’re looking for more information, read these guides to growing salvia plants next:

Photo of author
Tabitha is a professional writer and urban farmer in Zone 5b, Ontario. She’s passionate about growing, cooking, and eating food. In 2017 she earned a Permaculture Design Badge from Oregon State College and began converting her residential property, called Dickson Hill Farm, into a food forest. Tabitha spends summers cooking in her wood-fired oven, and winters nurturing her indoor plant kingdom while starting seeds for the next spring.

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