Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
November, 2010
Regional Report

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A tarp makes moving a heavy root ball easier.

Plants on the Move

Fall is a great time to move perennials in the landscape. If you have large clumps of perennial flowers or grasses that need dividing or want to share some plants with a friend once a frost has shut things down, go ahead and dig them.

The standard recommendation is to move spring and summer bloomers in the fall and fall bloomers in the spring. The idea is that by dividing the perennial during a time when it is not blooming, it's able to direct more energy into rebuilding a strong plant. However, while this is a helpful guideline, you can dig and move most any perennial in the fall if you like.

Perhaps you are interested in moving a shrub from one location in the yard to another spot where it is better suited. Maybe you are going to move to another home in the coming months and would like to take a special plant with you. Or let's say a friend is removing some woody ornamental plants and offers them to you- if you'll come and get them.

Late October through November is a good time to move woody ornamental plants in the Lower South. The cool temperatures minimize stress from root loss, and the plants have all winter and early spring to settle in and start to develop new roots to get ready for next summer.

Begin by trimming the plant back by about one third by removing dead and damaged branches, doing any pruning which would be needed anyway, and making cuts to provide access to the base of the shrub for digging and handling.

After pruning it is helpful to lift the branches up and wrap the plant with jute twine to make it easier to handle. You can use an old sheet to wrap around the plant and pull the branches up and together for tying. This wrapping process is especially helpful if the plant has thorns or pointed leaves. Having someone around to assist makes this process much easier.

Dig the plant with as much of the root system and surrounding soil as is practical. Soil is VERY heavy (almost 100 pounds per cubic foot) and you can easily end up with an unmanageably large root ball. It is better to move a smaller, younger plant.

When digging, remember that wider is better than deeper for most plants since root systems tend to spread out more than they go down. Dig halfway around the plant to define the root ball area by pushing a sharpened shovel into the soil. Remove some soil from outside this area to allow access to the root ball. Then do the same on the other side.

Lean the plant and root ball to one side and slide a tarp under it. Then have someone lean the plant back toward the tarp as you cut the roots underneath the plant to free the root ball for moving. Once all the roots are cut slide the plant onto the tarp. Using a tarp to move a plant makes it so much easier and saves hundreds of dollars in chiropractor bills and ibuprofen! It also helps keep the soil in place around the roots during the move.

Depending on the size of the root ball, two to four people holding corners of a tarp can move the plant more easily than you might think. Or you can use the tarp to drag the plant to its new location.

In the new location, set the plant at the same depth that it was previously growing or slightly higher, as some settling will occur. Take care to firm the soil under and around the root ball to remove air pockets, watering it in well as you refill the planting hole with soil. This is a very important step that also greatly improves survival and regrowth. I like to build a circular berm of soil around the newly set plant so I can fill it with water to provide a thorough soaking after planting and as needed for the warm spring and summer months to come.

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