How to Divide a Cast Iron Plant (Aspidistra Elatior)


The stylish, long-leafed cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) is an on-trend plant right now, as plants which were popular in the 70’s make a resurgence in contemporary décor. 

Dividing them is easy and enjoyable and will give you more elegant plants to add to your living or bedroom spaces, or to give as gifts to friends.  

In this article we look at the easy steps to take to divide a cast iron plant, and how to care for your plants after dividing so that they grow strong and healthy. 

Can I divide a cast iron plant?

Cast iron plants respond very well to being divided: it is the best way to propagate them. Dividing will stimulate new growth on both plants. 

Dividing a cast iron plant is a simple and relatively quick way to propagate it.  

How do I tell when a cast iron plant needs dividing?

From time to time, it is good to check the size of the cast iron plant’s roots in its pot.  Tap the pot, then turn it over and slide it out, at least partially. This will give you a good look at the root system.  

Cast iron plants will fill their pot with roots and rhizomes (a bigger, thickened root piece). Filling their pot is called being root-bound.

When you see by sliding it out and making a root inspection that the soil in the existing pot space is getting full, it’s time to divide the plant.

You may even see roots starting to stick up out of the soil or through drainage holes in the bottom of the pot. This is a sign you are ready to repot your Aspidistra or divide it, without having to remove the pot to check.

When can I divide a cast iron plant?

When considering how to divide a cast iron plant, you don’t have to wait until the pot is full of roots before dividing it.

You can do it earlier. You will just need two or three leaves, at a minimum, on the divided section, as well as on the remaining section. Both sections will respond and continue to grow.

The ideal time of year to divide a cast iron plant is in the spring or the summer, when it is already actively growing. This will help the plants to have vigorous growth after being divided.

How to divide a cast iron plant: easy steps

  • Slide the plant out of the pot onto some newspaper or an outdoor work surface.
  • Tap the root section several times to shake off the excess soil, and so you can see the roots and rhizomes clearly.
  • Try to tease apart a section of the plant, starting from the base of the leaves. You want to separate the roots, dividing the plant into sections.
  • If the roots are too hard to separate, cut through the roots with a sharpened spade or with a knife. It is good to have some part of the rhizome – the larger, harder, woody part of the roots – left on each section of the plant.
  • Sit the sections in a bucket of water so the roots don’t dry out.
  • Prepare pots with fresh potting mix and some slow-release fertilizer. Your pots should not be too big – a diameter of no more than 2 inches (5 cm) wider than the clump of roots on the divided plant.
  • Plant the sections into their pots. Tap the side of the pots so the potting mix settles down well.
  • Give all the plants a good watering. You might sit them under an outdoor sprinkler for fifteen minutes or so.

How will a cast iron plant look once I’ve divided it?

Both the divided plants and the parent plants will need two or three weeks to recover.

They may curl up their leaves, drop a leaf or two, or go a little yellow or brown. This is quite normal and shouldn’t cause alarm.

Just be careful not to over-water them, and these hardy plants will soon get their healthy green color back.

Once you see new leaves growing, you know the divided plant is getting well established.

Where should I put a divided cast iron plant?

Keep your newly divided cast iron plants away from any direct sun. They actually can thrive in low-light conditions, even indoors.  

Especially in the six weeks after you have divided them, don’t expose them to any harsh lighting.  

Also, don’t expose your Aspidistra to high temperatures. This plant actually grows better at lower temperatures below 72oF, unlike other common houseplants.

How big will a divided cast iron plant grow?

A divided cast iron plant will grow just as big as the parent plant: typically up to two feet tall and two feet (60cm) wide.  

However, they are slow growers, so don’t expect quick growth from a small, divided section.

If you want plants which are a reasonable size soon after dividing, it’s better to cut the plant into larger sections.

How should I water a divided cast iron plant?

After their initial watering, you want to keep the soil lightly moist all the time, but not soggy as the roots will rot.

If the top of the soil is looking dried out, water the plant lightly.

Once the plant is showing new growth, it can tolerate more water. But bear in mind that cast iron plants don’t need a lot of water; they need light moisture.

How should I feed a divided cast iron plant?

During spring, summer, and autumn, your divided cast iron plants will benefit from a feed every two months.

You can use a good quality indoor plant food in a liquid or slow-release form.

If your divided cast iron plants are looking yellow, you can give them a light feed. However, don’t overfeed them – it won’t help.

How often can I divide a cast iron plant?

When you consider how to divide a cast iron plant, you need to take into account the length of time since it was last divided.

Even though these plants are a hardy species, they don’t do well if the roots are disturbed very often.

Every two years is a good length of time before dividing the plants again, or every year if lots of roots are growing quickly.  

Enjoy dividing

Cast iron plants are a fantastic plant to practise your dividing skills. You will have quick success and soon build your confidence in dividing these hardy, super-stylish indoor plants. 

About the author 

Paul - Better Houseplants

Loves orchids and foliage houseplants. Always trying to be a better plant parent. Let's get growing!

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