Friday, September 12, 2008

To Save a Life...or Two or Three

This post is actually about saving several lives. Freecycle is a really cool Yahoo Mail Group that I participate in. I talked about it on Tuesday when I received a bunch of bricks. I love getting free things and also offer up many things too. Plants always catch my eye when they are posted. The two yews you see below were not posted, but the lady who owned them gave them to me and Mr. Fix-it anyhow. We had visited her home to pick up some fencing and she said she was remodeling her porch, so they had to go. I volunteered to take them. These yews are 30+ years old and had been in place for that long! They were not going to come out willingly.

Mr. Fix-it was kind enough (he always is) to help me dig these out. Actually, digging wasn't cutting the dirt. No pun intended. Nope, we had to pull out the ratchet straps and pull the yews out with the truck. The ratchet straps were also no competition for the yews as one was snapped. Urrr! Next, out came the heavy duty chain. That did the trick. Both of these yews were yanked-yup-yanked out. You can just barely see the damage to the base of the trunk on the yew pictured above.
The second yew fared a bit better since it was smaller. Both suffered in the move and have been in my garden for about four months now. They finally have died. I just took them to the dump recently. How sad. No success here and I learned you cannot successfully yank old yews out of the ground. Maybe digging gently would work, but somehow I doubt it.

Anyone who reads this blog or who knows me, knows I like hydrangeas. They are my favorite genus of shrubs, with the oakleaf being my very favorite shrub. A close third would be the mopheads. The mopheads remind me of Maine and my mother and I love them very much. If they weren't so persnickety I might like them best, but that is not to be.

A couple of months ago someone posted on Freecycle the following, "Snowball bushes, blue-purplish, two, you dig-bring a shovel." Cindy posted this ad. Sadly, Cindy's health does not allow for much gardening anymore and she chose to offer her ten year old hydrangeas to fellow Freecyclers. It seems Cindy just cannot kill anything or let it die, so in a valiant to save her mature hydrangeas, she offered them to anyone brave enough to dig them out. I jumped right on the offer. You see, I too can't see letting these beautiful shrubs die, and if I can save one or two or three or four-I am there!

I was not the first person who responded to Cindy's ad. Some other lucky gardener or two beat me to it. I was heartbroken when I saw her ad saying the 'snowball bushes' were taken.

I did not entirely give up though. On a whim I decided to email Cindy and see if the snowball bushes had indeed been taken. She responded NO! The man and woman who had attempted to dislodge the hydrangeas from their comfortable spot spent four hours trying to dig them out with no success. Actually, there were a few casualties in the process. They broke three shovels. That was pretty funny to Cindy. Oops, doesn't look too good for me. Cindy said I was welcomed to give it a shot but to be prepared and bring a few shovels. The hydrangea pictured above is the result of the other two folks attempting to dig it out.

I thought to myself, this did not sound like typical hydrangeas. The hydrangeas I know are generally shallow rooted and fairly easy to dislodge. In Mr. Fix-it's truck down the road I went, hi ho, hi ho, hi ho! Here I come Mr. and Mrs. Hydrangea to save you!

Honestly, I really did try to explain to the shrubs it was in their best interest to come along nicely. Mr. Fix-it's truck was never going to fit in the backyard to pull them out the hard way like the yews had to suffer through. Nope, a shovel and hand held pruners was all I had at my will.

The first hydrangea was about 75% dug out, thanks to the previous attempt to remove it. I could not figure out what was holding it in the ground. I gently dug down (barehanded of course) and felt around for the roots. Upon finding them, I cut them with my handheld pruners (love those things!), dug a bit more, cut a bit more, pushed the hydrangea around a bit, and success! It took me about one hour to dislodge this hydrangea. Cindy was truly impressed. I was puffing with pride. That hydrangea is pictured above still in Cindy's garden. It is pruned back hard and missing some leaves due to the previous trauma. Now on to the other hydrangea.
This one seemed like it would be harder since I was starting from square one and since it was intertwined with some 'Jane' magnolia tree roots. But really, once it saw its buddy gave up the fight, it must have felt it was in its best interest to also let go. Some gentle digging-note I said GENTLE-do NOT break shovels digging plants out because if you do, you are doing it wrong. A bit of pruning and the second hydrangea was soon to join its buddy in the back of Mr. Fix-it's truck. It took me a total of two hours to get them both out.

Planting was going to be much easier, I just knew it and that kept me motivated. Plus, no way were these guys going to defeat me. By the way, these hydrangeas were dug from a home in Chandler, Indiana and were transported all the way to Tennessee on a hot sunny day in the back of a truck. Not ideal, but necessary. Once home, I soaked them in BJ's swimming pool, dug their holes and planted them with lots of yummy compost and moist soil. I have babied them for several months now and they are hanging in there. I was also able to separate the hydrangeas into a total of five fairly large hydrangeas. Did anyone know you can split hydrangeas? I didn't. The hydrangea that was already partially dug is pictured above. It is actually doing worse than the other hydrangeas, BUT! Do you see that one little branch with some green leaves? It lives still. One of the other hydrangeas actually has new growth on it. The real test of saving these lives will not be finished until next spring. At that time if they show new growth, then success. If not, that is fine too. At least I tried, just like with the yews. Something tells me though, that no matter my failures, I will continue to transplant big plants and take my chances. That is how life is sometimes.

I am thrilled with the new mopheads I received from Cindy's beautiful yard. There was color everywhere in her yard, and I am so surprised she let them go. Thanks Cindy! And you can be sure I will do my best to save their lives and ensure they live a happy, long and healthy life....

in the garden....


  1. Now that is admirable! I have tried to transplant a few larger and older plants and have never had any success.

  2. I can see why you wanted these as hydrangas are so pretty, I' love them too, knowing they will mostly die off though after 2 hours might not be a motivater. Prehaps after a couple years they will be better off.
    Yews are so nice but Jack of all trades doesn't like the formal look!?!!? Gotta stay with the evergreens up here if you want to see something other than white in the winter months.

  3. What an effort you put in! I'm sorry the yews didn't make it. But I hope the hydrandeas make it through the winter.

  4. Whew! This is a long post today. I am really trying to cut them down.

    Jillybean, Some plants are better able to adapt to transplanting when large. Don't try boxwoods, but barberry and azaleas work well. It is a hit or miss thing but they would need lots of babying.

    Dawn, The poor yews. Yes, they are nice in winter time. I don't like the formal look at all either so I am with Jack of all Trades. You guys have the nice spruces up there. I love those in winter! I think the hydrangeas will make it but when they die back it kind of defeats the purpose of transplanting big bushes.

    Cindy, I thank you! If we all think together maybe the hydrangeas will make it. I hope so too.

  5. Hi Tina, I had to laugh at your description of removing the yews. I remember doing exactly the same thing with some overgrown juniper. First we soaked the ground heavily, then we wrapped them with a chain and winched them out. Luckily I didn't have any hopes of replanting them.

    Good luck with your hydrangea!

  6. You mentioned snowball bushes. Are they Annabelle hydrangeas? I used to have some of those in S. Illinois (which is where they originated, in Anna, IL), and they were some of my favorite shrubs, even in the winter. The white blossoms changed color as they aged, but even the brown in winter wasn't ugly because of the lovely texture they added to an otherwise drab garden scene. I'll just keep reminding myself as I keep adding wrinkles that I'm adding texture to a world that's blandly smooth.

  7. That's a great find Tina, i haven't been able to find anything like that yet on Freecycle. Maybe I haven't looked long enough. I'm not sure pulling out established shrubbery can be very successful without a lot of work. It's too bad the yews couldn't survive. Yew is good in the garden!

  8. Marnie, Thanks! Ripping plants out with chains is sometimes the only way. You were smarter than me by not replanting yours though. I need to learn that.

    Walk2write, No, not Annabelles though I have a few and love them too. I did not know they originated in Anna Illinois. I love learning new things! You don't look old enough in your picture to have wrinkles or even grandchildren:)

    Dave, Sometimes you just really crack me up and surprise me! Funny you are!

  9. Tina, I was just about to tell you that I have some yews you could have, too:)
    How lucky Cindy was to find a loving home--and a hard worker!--for these hydrangeas. I can't wait to see these next spring; I bet they will survive.

  10. Thats alot of work Tina digging up established shrubs & moving them. I've done it with some 30 year old Azaleas when we had our addition put on the house. Three out of five survived so it was worth the effort. I hope your hydrangeas make it through the winter with some extra attention from you. To bad about the Yews.

  11. Mom- If memory serves hydrangeas only grow back on new growth right? New wood, and the old wood just sits there or can be cut off? I bet they will come back next spring, they are very nice. I didn't like the yews, like you and Dawn I don't care for shrubs that are formal in appearance, I am glad they didn't make it for your yard, but sorry they lost their life.

  12. Great job Tina and I hope they make it and I am betting that they will as they seem to be pretty tough, like the new owners for them.

  13. Tina, Why did the yews end up at the dump instead of the compost bin? Just wondering on that one. I saw them in your garden and was hoping they would make a come back but not meant to be I reckon...

    We took out two huge Boxwoods and worked on them for what seemed like all day long. We finally had them out but they were so heavy that we could not move them anywhere. We pruned them and still too heavy so we finally gave up and discarded them. Was sad to loose them but we did try our best... We were covered from head to toe in dirt and sweat with trying…

  14. Hats off to you, Tina! Your passion for plants/saving plants is admirable. In time I hope your hydrangeas turn out to be prolific bloomers!

  15. Rose, More yews. Hmmmm-nope, can't do it. Sorry!:) Would those be part of your green mustache?

    PGL, It is heartening to know some of your azaleas survived. That is one plant, along with hydrangeas I will also be willing to dig.

    Christine, Yes, I think the hydrangeas will grow back. Did Mimi's hydrangea bloom this year? Someday perhaps mine will look that way.

    Thanks Mom, Yup, pretty tough we are to fight with these shrubs. I do hope they survive, unlike the poor yews.

    Skeeter, The yews were too woody to go into the compost. They were pretty sad when you and the Saint were here and I finally got tired of looking at all the brown. Big improvement already. Too bad after all your work your boxwoods could not be saved. I love boxwoods but I think even if you could've moved them, they would not have fared well. Sad to lose mature plants though.

    Kanak, I hope these shrubs turn into prolific bloomers for sure. I am beginning to think I might have tons of blue blooms all around me sometime. That would be sweet.

  16. Talk about a persistent planter! You are one serious transplanter aren't ya? ;~)

    I think it's very noble that you devote such time and energy into trying to find new homes for doomed plants. Even if some don't survive.

  17. Thanks TC! Yup, I'm the mover and it is a big joke with some of my gardening friends. I think you can't buy maturity with plants so why not give it a go?

  18. It's always amazing that folks want to give away a plant we adore! Oh, I wish someone wanted the vincas that are everywhere in my yard!

    I have got to look at freecycle!


  19. A great post Tina. I'm sorry that your yews did not make it. They are pretty ever greens. Hopefully your hydrangeas will make it. They are so pretty. I miss them down here. What I remember are the ones that have huge white blooms that look like balls. I realized that my hydrangea had a limb that was laying on the ground has rooted. That is where the bloom is. It is pink. Can I cut that part off & plant somewhere else?

  20. Gail, I know, it just kills me what folks do to good plants.

    Lola, Yes! Cut off the rooted branch and transplant it around. This type of propagation is called layering and works especially well with hydrangeas. You can help the process by pulling a branch down and pinning it under some soil. It will root soon then you can cut it off and move it. This also works well with red twigs. Fast way to get more plants!

  21. Thanks Tina. Will try for more by putting a limb down with soil over it. Neat.

  22. Now there's some gardening dedication! But, who can resist free plants??

  23. Hi Amy, I hope all is well up there in Canada. Yup, I am pretty dedicated-especially when the word free is included:) Like most gardeners.

  24. I hope your transplanted hydrangeas make it Tina. Sounds like some back breaking work moving them!

    I have to start with small stuff here - too many shallow roots from the maple trees to even attempt a mature shrub.

    Kudos to you for making the effort to save these orphaned plants!

  25. Loved this post, Tina - it was cool to read that your patient, root-by-root method of moving the hydrangeas was more successful than brute force.
    We've also killed yews in a similar rescue attempt.
    Hope those Indiana hydrangeas will soon think Tennessee is home.

    Annie at the Transplantable Rose

  26. Annie, Good news! New growth is showing on all but one so I am ever so happy about that. Yes, sweet talk works best and those yews don't like to be moved. Sorry you lost yours. They are a favorite shrub but grow too slow! I learned not to waste my time from now on. It took them 3 months to die!