Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
May, 2006
Regional Report

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It took two to transplant the overgrown cherry laurels.

Recovering From Overplanting

Overplanting happens. By accident, impulse-buying, or sales seduction. Or by design -- short-term design, that is. One spring morning, a couple notices their five cherry laurels are so densely intertwined that neither of them can squeeze behind to clean the gutters. Huge rhododendrons block sunshine from the living room windows. And visitors yell "Ouch" while dodging long, drooping rose canes beside the patio.

Often the best solution is a long-term one: renovation, removal, and transplanting -- a good spring project while nights are cool and the days are long.

"Size at Maturity": The Magic Words
Shrubs and trees have predetermined sizes; their height, width, and form are in their genes. The 3-foot-tall holly (Ilex x meserveae) 'Blue Girl' that looked small and cute in the nursery pot will reach 8 by 10 feet. So boxing it into a 4-foot-wide space beside the front door eventually will prove "picky, picky, picky."

Plants grow. And time flies. Rather than imagining moving the shrub or tree in a "few" years, better to check the tag for "Size at Maturity" and select the plant that fits the corner or bed on the first try. In the meantime, feel free to fill empty space with annuals or perennials (easy to divide and move later).

Renovation, Removal, Transplanting
This May we're doing a considerable garden renovation that involves moving struggling azaleas and rhododendrons from a hot, sunny front bed to a more compatible shady, woodlands-like location. This is risky. They are all ready to bloom, so disturbing them could disrupt flowering. We need to do this immediately though, before summer heat sets in.

On the plus side, garden team member Lavalle Randolph is excellent at transplanting. He aims to keep plants alive; his approach involves minimal root disturbance -- "so the plant doesn't know it's been moved," he explains. His technique includes digging deep and far enough from the base to have a large, intact, soil-rich rootball to carefully move with each shrub. He also fills the planting hole with water while shoveling soil around the roots, then puts the hose on a dribble to saturate the rootball.

Another plus is this homeowner's willingness to water. She's committed to soaking the soil around the roots as often and as long as necessary to ensure the newly planted shrubs, hostas, ferns, and astilbes get well established. Once a day for the first three days, then once or twice weekly should suffice in the shade, until we see new growth.

Fertilizing with kelp, which reduces transplant shock, is my contribution. Liquid kelp concentrate and kelp meal have micronutrients, nitrogen, and potassium that give any plant a healthy boost. First I mix kelp meal in the planting soil. After the roots are hydrated with plain water, I water with diluted kelp solution for immediate nutrition.

We also relocated two of the cherry laurels to hide a wire fence. The remaining three look as full as before, marveled the delighted homeowner, and now there's enough room behind the shrubs for that ladder to reach the gutters.

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