It's like a game of dominos...
...one thing leads to another. That's been the case where
Steven's been working. Although it's the "wrong" time to
transplant, soon he'll have moved most of the key features in a
client's yard. And most will weather the change.
The design had been approved, materials were at hand, and
the gardeners had the time. So despite heat and plants in a
delicate condition -- pushing new growth -- Steven moved plants
Here's the general procedure we follow, and several photo
accounts in answer to:
I want to transplant some roses - when is the best time
to do this and how to? I also have a Redbud and a Dogwood tree
that are about 6 ft. tall that I want to move to a better location.
When and how? - J.A. -
To quote that great gardener,
designer, writer, Christopher Lloyd:
I am a great believer in doing a job
when I want to do it,
and to hell with the consequences.
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Do it now.
If you put it on the calendar who knows if you will actually
have the time, or if the conditions that normally make that time
"perfect" will not then prevail?
We moved a Japanese maple (red leaves peeping out from
behind a dogwood, below, left) at a tough time, sacrificing most of
its roots to avoid hurting the dogwood we'd dubbed Most Important
Plant. It survived and has been thriving ever since -- almost 17
In most cases, however,
the time of transplanting
is determined by
plant availability and
the schedule of
- Richard W. Harris in
Arboriculture: Care of Trees, Shrubs, and Vines in the
As for how,
Here's the general procedure. (It can change a bit for every
plant, so be sure to look at some of our transplant picture albums:
tree, arborvitae, redbud. They tell the tale
better than any words.)
- Water the plant the day before. (Best moved as
a water-filled plant in dryish soil.)
- Tie branches (right) to keep them out of your way and
to avoid breaks. Stake and tie herbaceous plants.
- Start digging at the dripline. Identify your plant's roots.
Preserve as many as you can. What must be cut, cut clean.
- Trench deeper, then undercut the root mass.
- Make the new hole match what you left behind.
Take a look at moving an arborvitae, a peach
tree, or a peony. All move the same as a rose.
Below: Here is the base and roots of a climbing rose we
moved recently. Once you see the arborvitae, peach (right) and
others, we think you'll see that this root mass is no different.
(Sorry that it's grainy; we haven't taken photo series of any of
our rose moves, but snatched this from the background of another
photo. We've included a tracing to help your eye sort it out; the
rose canes are in blue and the roots in orange.)
Are there "perfect times" to transplant?
Early spring and early fall are wonderful for almost all plants,
roses included. When plants have cool tops but
warm feet, their chemical mix shifts to encourage root growth
over adding or extending leafy shoots. That's good, allowing a
plant to keep photosynthesizing while putting the resulting fuel
into grabbing hold of the new ground.
Some species have growing quirks that make one or another expert
say "best to move that in fall/spring/after a blue moon, etc."
However, some of those experts operate in fields of a thousand of
one type of plant. They know what they're talking about, but they
must track much more than the simple criteria we use -- plant
survival. They also must give equal consideration to efficient use
of workers, needs of buyers and best return for the dollar are
So our experience -- yours and ours -- is often the best guide
for home gardeners. It has more to do with individual plants in
gardens with diverse growing conditions, where there may be
multiple sun/soil/water situations in a single bed.
Why you're likely to be more successful than a pro
Many gardeners do first, read later. In this way we have broken
every rule, and know others who have. More to the point, we've
succeeded. Perhaps the successes were simple luck, but consider
1) A gardener may handle a plant more gently and follow up with
more care than a production work crew could, because it is only one
plant, or their special prize or they could spend the time to
devise a special tool or contrivance to help them. (Oh, the cool
things we've seen ingenious gardeners do, especially those who
bring other fields of expertise to their gardening -- the nurses,
engineers, chefs, fabric cutters... you name it!)
A good example are the redbuds we
moved, which will survive despite the fact that we made those
moves during a dreadful combination of time and
conditions. Why? Because they're
seedlings of a special tree, nurtured for years by the gardener in
honor of her dad who loved that tree. She, and
we, won't allow them to fail.
2) Intra-garden moves often transfer a plant from a place that
was not good for that species, into a better one. It might even be
a then-or-nothing move to make way for a construction crew, road
repair, utility work, etc.
3) A growth stall or partial loss after a transplant that might
zero out a plant's resale value may be acceptable to the gardener
who can wait.
So go ahead and move it, whenever.
You'll see and deal with consequences of a non-prime-time
No lawn grass or other flowers may be left in or just beyond the
transplant's root zone. None.
Place a shade screen or cloth to block the 3 pm sun, if it's
midsummer or the plant wilted right away when dug.
Don't fertilize until new growth begins. Don't add fancy stuff
to the soil unless it's a soilless mix. If it's natural soil, it
already contains plenty of beneficial microorganisms which will be
inspired to multiply because we loosened and will keep the
When there's wilting
Well, duh! It has less root so it can't take up as much water.
But don't despair. Water carefully, to keep the soil moist but
never soggy. (Soggy soil kills roots; talk about
Wait. If leaves drop (right, the peach complained within days) or
if stems or branches die, only then should you clip them back.
Until such time as the plant sacrifices them, let them be. Every
growing tip is part of the chemical equation that results in a
transplant making more root. Remove leafy tips and you may dull the
plant's urge to root.
If there's serious leaf loss or tip dieback
We'd rather see a transplant keep every leaf. That plant can
process more sun, make more fuel. However, if the loss involves
primarily inner, older leaves we don't get overly concerned. Seems
like the smarter plants (the peach tree!) do this, as if
saying, "Whoa, what happened? Shoot, can't support this many
leaves. I'll let some go."
If the plant loses mostly new tips, right away, we make a vow to
be more careful with roots next time if we can, or do more to keep
the plant moist between take off and landing (right, we're
soaking this little bare root tree in a bucket of water; that
brought it out of a wilt). However, we don't beat ourselves up
over it. If the loss happens down the road during the resettlement
period (which can be years
for a big woody plant) we renew our effort to keep the root
Other stress signals
We dig and re-set, taking care to
work when it's drier rather than very wet so tender new roots
won't have to bear so much soil weight.
Leaves scorch on the sunnier side.
Perhaps we moved it into a place that's too exposed? Or maybe it's
just reacting to too great a change because it came from an overly
shady place into the sun. We shade the sunny side. If it's a woody
plant, we make a note to shade the sunny side during the next
winter or two, since wood that was shaded and is now more exposed
needs time to build thicker walls.
Dieback of limbs, main canes, main stems
Cut the losses. Be sure they are dead and not simply exhibiting
early leaf fall. If there are buds set for the next year on a shrub
or tree, that limb's not dead. If there are pink or white growth
buds set below the soil at the base of a herbaceous plant's stem,
we can cut the top away but know it will be replaced toot