Relocating Woody Plants (3)

This is a DIY guide for moving plants in the garden, specifically woody plants like hydrangeas. There are many reasons why we might move mature plants including:

  • The botanical treasure we purchased and planted is languishing in its location.
  • The chosen spot is too small for the growing plant.
  • The plant is so lovely we want to make it a centerpiece.
  • We need to make room for new acquisitions.
  • My bride wants to shuffle stuff in the garden. She loves to organize colors and textures, and I accommodate her desires. Gardening is one of our together activities.

Shawn loves hydrangeas. I do not. I mowed lawns to earn spending money in my teens, and my encounters with hydrangeas were not positive. Those monstrous plants were all the same—huge bushes with massive snowball blossoms that reeked and became an amusement park for every biting and stinging insect in the valley. Duck-walking my mower underneath I always wondered why anyone would want that mess up next to the house.

After many years of low-key suggestions from Shawn about the need to include hydrangeas in our garden, I broke down. We added three varieties. I blame the curators of the JC Raulston Arboretum who have several hydrangeas on display, and I’ll admit they all look great. How could I continue to exclude such nice plants from my garden?

Sometimes we need a move or a change to ignite our creative juices, enhance our zeal for life, and usher in the challenges of new problems to solve. Seriously, if all we do is veg in front of the one-eyed mind-stealer, we lose our mental edge. Hellen Keller wrote, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.”

Our hydrangeas have been on safari since we acquired them. With each season they migrate to new locations. One is now settled, happy and at home (finally). Two are still in motion as we try various spots. I have high hopes the plants will love their environment, send down strong roots, and display stunning blooms in 2015. Gardening requires a future facing outlook and an unwavering faith that there’s always next season.

If your spouse is asking about moving plants in your garden, don’t be alarmed. These instructions work for azaleas, roses, hydrangeas, salvia and a host of plants. Besides, you’ll save money by exercising without having to buy an expensive gym membership, and with those funds you can buy even more plants to move around the property.

We live in Zone 7 and do our major garden moves in September/October. Check with your local county extension program or the guy with the best looking garden in your neighborhood to find the right time for your area. Be advised that some plants (like azaleas) form buds in the fall for next spring’s display, so be gentle with any cutting or moving.

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Choose the victim. This hydrangea lost a battle with a ferocious maple tree and was transplanted to a safe zone a year ago. After a summer of TLC it has perked up and is ready to return to the garden.

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After raking the mulch around the plant I use a shovel to dig a circle as wide as the plant. Dig straight down and deep to sever the roots.

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I then use the shovel as a pry bar under the root ball to gauge my progress.

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The plant is free. Grasp as many stems as possible at the root level, and lift with your legs not your back. For heavy plants enlist help. Plan on getting dirty. I wouldn’t undertake this work in my best shirt and jeans.

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One, two, three—lift! And into the ancient wheelbarrow Mr. Hydrangea goes.

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The new location was chosen weeks ago after many negotiation sessions with Management. I am not ready to move the roses which are also heading for a new location so my digging was impeded. I acquired several nice scratches, but no job is done until you bleed on it. At least that was the wisdom I grew up with.

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Dig the hole big enough for the plant’s roots to stretch out and for the addition of compost. How big is that?

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I use the shovel handle to measure the hole and compare to the plant.

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The hole is wide enough.

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Another move for Mr. Hydrangea, and I hope this is the last. Note that Shawn did some clean-up pruning to remove dead branches.

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Pack the dirt around the root ball. Use care not to submerge the plant in a dip. I had to remove the plant once to add more dirt to place the crown of the root ball at the right level.

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Gently compress the soil and add more as needed. Water thoroughly (gently flood it!). Let the water absorb then add more soil if needed.

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Add a 2” layer of compost or mulch around the plant but keep the material back at least 3” from the stems.

Water the plant to keep it hydrated until the roots secure themselves in the new location.

Now, the roses are moving to the other side of the garden once I get the soil prepared, so I better get back to work.

Thanks, Shawn, for gardening with me…and for taking the cool pictures.