Sunday, May 27, 2012

How to transplant plants -- Create a memory garden

Thriving transplanted plants can preserve memories.

Thoughts of  Grandma Juanita return with the bright red hollyhocks rescued from behind the garage of the family home on Mead street.  After seventy nine years it was time to pass the homestead on to another family, but not only sofas made it onto the moving truck.  About a dozen pots of tiger lilies, a butterfly bush and various buttercups bounced along, tucked amongst the dining room table and chairs--equally as precious. 

Real estate experts worry about furniture and fixtures being left behind, but never protect the spruce in the yard.  If the home belonged to an avid gardener--perhaps they should?

Some of my divorce clients include in their agreements exactly which plants or trees they intend to move to a new abode.  One couple fought fiercely over several gigantic Mackinac Island lilac bushes begun from saplings salvaged during their honeymoon twenty years hence.  The irony was not lost--luckily a compromise ended with both retaining shrubs grown in a happier time.  Just last week a client sighed "I gotta get that red maple out of the yard, it's followed me from our first house." 

Transplanting not only saves money and reduces the carbon footprint, it perpetuates some of another's garden in your own.  A master gardener's last will provided that one Saturday following his demise, all of his like minded friends could dig up any plant they wished from his yard.  They did.

Given the cherished stakes, it takes only a few careful steps to increase the likelihood of transfer success:

1.  Timing:  Never move a plant in bloom.  That's when most of its energy is directed towards outward growth, not downward to the roots. Early spring and mid fall are best, before the top half of the plant commences growth and the weather is more amiable towards development.  Cloudy days, evening or just prior to a rainy week are optimal.  Right now  in the midst of an unusual spring drought, plants are more stressed than usual and water is in short supply.  Transplants will require extra care.

2.  Reduce Stress in Advance:  Heavily water the chosen subject a few hours before surgery.  Clip back any spent blooms or leggy growth.  The plant should be lean and mean for movement.

3. Ready the pot:   I often use small heavy carboard containers if the transplant will be on sight.  If moving further, line a plastic pot with a couple layers of newspaper, leaving the edges poking out (like the wrapping on a poinsettia, in reverse.) The newpaper makes it easier to pop out the plant later and can even be left intact.  Fill the bottom third with some of that free mulch or compost.  Save pots from nursery purchases or cut the top third off of a milk or juice container, poking drainage holes in the bottom.   These work well for moving if the handle is left intact. 

4.  Ready the hole:  Dig a "ten dollar hole for a five dollar plant."   In other words, dig twice the size of the root ball of the plant, loosening the earth for a generous circumference.  The looser the surrounding soil, the more likely shocked roots will reestablish.  Plus, water, a critical element will more easily reach the roots.  Toss in a few scoops of compost or bloodmeal. 

5.  Extraction:   The most important part of a plant during transplant is the part you cannot see--the root system.  The soil around plant roots contain microbes which are microscopic yet important to plant health.  Preserving as much of the root ball as possible means more of the these desirable hitchhikers will come along, and that's good thing.  No matter the quality of the soil, bring it along.  Cut several inches outside the dripline of the plant.  The dripline is the circular area around a plant which is defined by the farthest extending growth. Using a sharpened spade, cut all the way around with a downward tilt and push at the end to begin popping out the roots.  It's easy to do only one side, but that can cause damage to the opposite side of the plant.  Once the cut is all around, loosen from the bottom using the spade. NEVER grab the plant by the top and pull.  Ouch.

6.  Just  Move It!   Ready to transplant, carefully loosen the plant from its new pot, and set it in the hole.  Check for depth--the top of the root ball should be just below the surface.  Depth can be critical for afterblooms.  Irises and peonies will not bloom fully unless their roots are inches from the surface. Step back and evaluate the location as well as the angle of the transplant.  Before backfilling with soil, flood the hole with water.  Once it subsides, fill in with soil, leaving a ring or moat around the dripline of the plant.  Although tempting, don't seal the deal with a bootprint.  That action causes soil compaction, stomping out water access to the root system.

6.   Aftercare:   If nature is not providing fluids, then water frequently  keeping the soil moist but not flooded.  If it's a busy week ahead, set down a gallon milk container filled with water, pinpricked with holes on the bottom for slow seepage. If the new area is sunny, create a sun screen using a partially tipped plastic pot over the plant leaving room for air flow.  Direct sunlight will shrivel a transplant--pronto. 

Later, when touring the yard, a thriving transplant can momentarily pay tribute to a friend, loved one, or a happy memory.

Have a meaningful Memorial Day.

More Articles of Interest:

Moving Day -- Don't Forget to Pack the Garden!

To Hellebores and Back