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July a tricky time for moving plants

Tom Glass
Vail, CO Colorado

We had a nice rain two week’s ago. It’s an exceptionally good time to stand in the coolness of your backyard in the evening. If only it were as cool as you.

Not that you haven’t tried to lend it some of your savvy. Standing there you might be looking at a few grand’s worth of bushes, trees, shrubs, groundcovers, and flowers, and despite your attendance at the perennial seminars held by the local branch of the #1 seller of plants in America, the vision that is in your head still ain’t quite right in your backyard.

You might even think that you just might be able to see perfection from here, if you could just move a few things around. Like, maybe if that big shrub were over there.



Depending on the size of your will and the shovel you select, plants are mostly portable. That’s the good news. The bad? July would not be my pick of months to uproot all but the most recently planted. We’re coming into some plant taxing months. If you’re needing permission to put off the plant relocation project, you have mine. Go lose some golf balls or break off a few flies in the bushes. It will probably be more productive.

However, if your hell bent and heading for the backyard, let’s think this move through together. From the perspective of plant life, the thought of severing roots and a fast transplant into a hole kept soggy off and on must seem like a surgery begging a second opinion. The questions aren’t ones of what are the risks. Any fool knows they’re substantial. The question is how to succeed-maybe.

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To begin with you might locate the new hole and improve the soil with some 3/8″ spruce bark compost. Dig a big wide hole and mix up a fifty-fifty mix of the soil and compost. Chances are your soil lacks – most everything but clay. You want to create a little organic matter oasis for your transplants. Start now. The effort expended may also satisfy your short term need to work in the yard until a long term move is more favorable.

Creating a favorable environment for a plant missing half its other half is paramount. Automatic irrigation can substitute for earth mother love, but in the final analysis nothing replaces the watchful eye of someone who cares if the plants take root or not. Inspecting a newly transplanted plant at the end of the day will prevent losses from timers losing their time, emitters clogging, and a dry, hot day that causes the leaves to sag down in a wilt because 20 minutes of steady drip was 10 minutes shy of the mark.

If you find a plant wilted, misting the leaves may lessen the damage, and may make all your efforts worthwhile.



Part of what leads to success in moving plants around is choosing which plants to move..

Right now, using the tools found in a typical garage, I wouldn’t tackle a tree much bigger around than my thumb. No matter the type of tree, the height water must be lifted to serve the upper leaves and branches is too great to be overcome by a plant with half its roots removed – even if watered often and deeply.

Shrubs are built differently than trees. Nonetheless, as a rule of thumb, I wouldn’t consider moving any bush or shrub possessing broad, large leaves like a lilac, or lots of needles like a spruce unless I could move the entire root system intact.

But, I know some of you are thinking of ripping up the potentilla hedge planted alongside your drive despite the dissenting advice of professional plant ripper uppers. If that’s the case, then you may be able to use a trick employed by nurserymen. Cut the potentillas, or other shrubs, in half and wait a couple of weeks before digging them up. The shock of the shearing will be absorbed by a plant possessing all of its roots. And after the shrub has been dug, it will have half the plant to support. When digging the shrub, obviously, attempt to dig up as much root as you can. Try to match the size of the plant’s top half to its bottom half

If you possess the type of soil that exists throughout most of this valley, that may not be as simple as it sounds; so, try digging a test shovelful or two to check to see if it’s possible to get all the roots a halved plant would like to take to its new home.

When digging the plant, think in terms of surface area. In a given hole, little roots possess more surface area than a few big ones. Consequently, little roots count for more than big roots. Root hairs count triple. Try to capture intact as many as possible. Then, soak them in a bucket. It’s been dry in that soil. Or, hose them down gently and cover them with wet cloth. To double the value of this column, this newspaper wetted well works just fine.

And then transfer the plants as rapidly as possible to their new home. Soak the soil into which they’re transplanted to saturation. Continue to keep the soil well watered for the remainder of the growing season.

Relocating plants is actually best done when the plant is dormant in late fall or early spring. However, not everyone can choose when to be in this valley, nor when they can get yard work done. The above is intended to make your summer a success.


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