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Gardening tips: Grab your bread knives for houseplants

Bread knife surgery is a great way to separate plants.

Even though it's too chilly to work in the garden outside, there's always something to do indoors.

Even a bread knife with a serrated edge can be put to use in dividing houseplants.

Mother-in-law's tongues--native to South Africa--make great houseplants and outdoor summer shade plants. The tips of the bold leaves are sharp--some would say like a mother-in-law's tongue--if you can stomach the sexism from a bygone era.

They can fill up a pot quickly, so every few years they can be knocked out of their pots and divided. Just cut the root ball in half with your bread knife and re-pot each half.

Many other houseplants, such as queen's tears, can also be divided in this way. This old-fashioned plant with small neon flowers is blooming now, so I'll wait to divide until it's finished flowering.

Not all houseplants can be divided. Only the clump-formers can be cut in half, not those with a single stem.

I once bought a variegated ficus grown as a hanging basket. It has three separate plants with roots that are completely intertwined. Bread knife surgery is the only way to separate them. It's just a weird case.

After cutting the root balls apart, the three sections are planted individually so they can grow into small trees. They need no special care and are drought tolerant. A ficus tree may be a life-long companion.