Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Lessons From Moving a Garden

It has now been nearly two years since we purchased our land and I find myself still in the process of moving much of my old garden to the new garden. I thought I'd share some lessons learned and tips if you too are possibly moving a garden or thinking of moving a garden. 

I really did not think I would still be moving plants two years later but I may not even get it all done prior to our three year anniversary. At some point I will have to draw the line and stop. The bonus of having fully grown, one of a kind shrubs in my garden makes me continue to plog on. Not to mention the fact that for every mature shrub or tree I move I am saving myself hundreds of dollars and years of growing time. Woohoo! It kind of makes it worth the pain, the time, and dirt when I look at it that way.

The problem with moving a garden is there are limited windows in which you can logically move your plants. Technically I suppose you could move plants anytime of the year but some times are better than others. For instance, moving plants in the summer is probably not the best time to move them. Not because the soil is dry and hot, though that does not help plants settle in, but because in my area of the country our ground turns into rock when it is dry and no amount of watering can make the ground soft enough to dig large plants. So, lesson number one, don't move large plants in the summertime. Even if you do manage to dig into the soil you will not be able to effectively get as many roots as you could if the ground was wet, like it normally is in the late fall, winter, or early spring.

Lesson number two is a big one. Have a spot to move your shrub to once it is dug. Don't do like I usually do when I buy shrubs on a spur of the moment and then I walk around and look for a spot for that shrub; sometimes for hours. Digging large plants (shrubs and trees I am talking about) will necessitate them having a spot to be planted into right away to help lessen the shock of moving.

The picture below shows my three eight foot doublefile viburnums that I recently dug on a cold and dreary day that included some freezing rain. Aside from the fact the job was very muddy and dirty, the rain and cold and overcast sky helped my shrubs by keeping them moist for the trip to the new garden, and by settling them in right away by having the rain pack down the soil. Lesson number three is to move your plants on an overcast day when the ground is moist or rain is expected.

Some shrubs and trees are easier to dig than others. These large doublefile viburnums did not give me too much of a problem to dig them out with three foot rootballs. What was most difficult to the point I nearly gave up was lifting them into the back of the truck. It was one of the hardest physical things I have ever done. In fact, I really almost did not complete the task. I then had a good idea to use a board as leverage where I could pick up the shrub to a certain point and have it supported there while I maneuvered it up further. Mission complete. Lesson number four therefore is to have help lifting your newly dug plants or have a shorter platform to move them onto. You may also need help lifting them off the truck but I always find gravity does a good job of helping me with this task. It never fails to move my shrubs to the ground, and rather quickly I might add.

The back of my truck is covered with mud and muck. It has been like that for a couple of years now. While I don't mind mud and muck I cannot take my truck through a carwash with the bed so dirty but I keep thinking what is the point to clean it if I am still moving plants? So, lesson number five is if you want a neat and tidy truck you might want to wrap your rootballs in burlap or plastic or place them in pots if you have any that are big enough. Wrapping the rootballs can help to keep the rootball intact but in all of the moving I have done I have found keeping the rootball intact is not as important as getting the plant planted properly in the right spot. In fact, sometimes it helps to really see your roots and see if they are doing well but ideally you'd want to keep the rootball together for the most part.

Some plants are harder to move than others. Baptisias are notoriously hard to move as I posted on last year. I spent all day moving just a few 'perennials' when I thought it would take only a few hours. It was difficult and I did actually gave up and left quite a few mature baptisias at the old garden due to the difficulties of digging them. Lesson number six is to allot more time for moving your shrubs than you think you'll need.

Each day I plan to dig in the garden I set a goal of what I specifically wish to move. I cannot possibly move everything so I am limiting myself to uncommon plants, plants I love, plants that can be safely moved (I hope), and large plants that will make a difference right away. Once I have hit my goal I may dig other plants and I so enjoy it when I can. But to be effective lesson number seven is to set a goal and stick to it. Remember it is the tortoise that wins the race in the end.

My last lesson has to do with planting the plants. Be sure you plant them at the same depth they were growing in at the old spot. Additionally, I always add amendments to new planting holes. Some professionals espouse tough love and do not like to give newly planted shrubs a boost upon being planted. I totally disagree with this position. The thinking is that the shrub or tree or plant will have to get used to the natural soil at some point so why give it extra help in the beginning? I will liken it to a marathon runner preparing for a marathon. Once he gets going he has to run the whole marathon on his own strengths and energy he has stored but, prior to beginning a marathon there are many things a runner will do to prepare for that marathon. Some of those things include being hydrated, eating lots of carbs, and training. While I can't train my shrubs to be prepared for a move I can help ensure they start the race with a good amount of energy in the form of supplements. Compost is the very best supplement for any plant, newly planted or otherwise. Since I don't always have compost on had I never fail to throw in a handful of bonemeal in the newly dug hole. My soil is also full of clay so I also include greensand in my holes. There are numerous microbial additives you can also add to newly plant shrubs and trees and I sometimes use them as well. Believe me your plants will thank you and will grow well.

Okay, one last note on moving plants. To date I have dug hundreds of perennials, shrubs, and trees, and thousands of bulbs. I will not bore you with the list but will give you my opinion, based on experience of what shrubs and trees will do well and what ones you might want to forgo moving. First of all, if you begin digging a tree or shrub and find the roots are extremely long and extremely anchored well, or that the roots are intertwined with a mature trees roots or another shrubs roots then I would leave the shrub or tree. It hurts but it is the best thing and I am leaving quite a few specimens behind. These include: vernal witch hazel, Carolina snowbell, Japanese maples with a trunk over 3 inches, azaleas, large hydrangeas, specifically oak leaf hydrangeas, and others. Everything I have moved with the exception of one Japanese maple, one crepe myrtle, and possibly some azaleas have survived the move (spring will tell for sure).

Plants you might want to move:

Japanese maples provided they have not been in place for more than five years and not larger than eight to nine feet tall or with a trunk diameter of 2-3 inches.

Viburnums. I have found all viburnums are fairly easy to dig and move. If it is a viburnum that is readily available don't bother moving it as it is not worth the time.

Hydrangeas are tricky. Oakleaf hydrangeas don't do well when moved and if they have multiple stems don't even try to move them. Big leaf hydrangeas do okay but they must be moved prior to frost with enough time for them to get established before winter sets in, or they will die. The same goes for camellias and azaleas-for the most part. The paniculata and arborescen hydrangeas do well anytime they are moved. Just be prepared to water them if you move them in the summer.

Witch hazels, if not well established, will make the move well.

Vitex can be difficult to dig but will settle in.

Nandinas are very easy to move and quick to settle in.

Spireas can have large rootballs with very fine roots. Be prepared to do some lifting and digging. Spireas will settle in ultra fast.

Some dogwoods can be moved. I had one dogwood die but it was one that I had purchased from a nursery specifically for this site-so it was not a moved dogwood. Dogwoods will struggle during dry periods so be prepared to water them or move them in the fall.

Crepe myrtles are difficult to move. Their roots are very woody and spread out far. That is why they are so drought tolerant. I suggest moving these in early spring. They should all survive provided you get at least three good roots. I moved one that really only had one root and while I watered it and added amendments, it just did not survive a month in the garden.

Smoke trees are the exact same way as crepe myrtles 

Azaleas, but be prepared to water the first two years during dry periods. I have had varying successes with the azaleas. Most have made it primarily because I did water them this past summer and also because I planted them in the right spot. Azaleas have fine roots that are sensitive to moving and can be tricky for a not so careful gardener (like me). Make sure to add lots of organic matter to the soil, move them in early spring to early fall. The months of October, November, December, and even January are not good months to move these.

Perennials can be moved anytime they are actively growing. For instance, I would not want to move hellebores in the summer. Hellebores do most of their growing right now so I have been busy moving them recently. I like to see new growth on my newly transplanted perennials so if I moved hellebores in the summer I might not see new growth before the winter sets in. Most perennials are easy to move and will reward you with a good show. Do not move them when they are dormant. While perennials might survive they will basically sit in their spot living off from the reserves they have with them when you move them. The roots will not grow much at all during the winter and while the perennial may survive, it will do better when actually growing.

Grasses should should be moved when actively growing. This is especially important for warm season grasses as they behave like the perennials. Shrubs and trees can generally be moved when dormant but it is not a good idea to do this with perennials and grasses.

Bulbs can be moved anytime. Of course it sure helps if you can see the bulbs location! So, for the most part I move mine when they are actively growing. Some bulbs are very easy to move and adjust well and quickly, while others take longer. Bulbs that are easy to move and are still able to bloom during its regular bloom cycle or to continue to bloom: daffodils, pink ladies. Bulbs that resent being disturbed and will quickly lose their bloom if moved during a bloom time: hyacinths, spider lilies, and crocuses. I am about to move some crinums so I will let you know how they do at a later point. 

Now back to moving shrubs and trees....

in the garden....

Words and Photos Property of In the Garden Blog Team, In the Garden


  1. I am sure you will pass along even more tips as you continue your move. Great thoughts.

  2. Great information on moving a garden. I cannot believe it has been 2 years already! Wow, you have done a lot in those two years! I have enjoyed the process thus far and cannot wait to see what you do next.... I wish I had your energy....

  3. Loved reading about your moving all. I am still learning about things here.