Round and round the garden

Sunday, 22 March 2015

These creamy-yellow Clivia plants have been moved because the leaves got burnt when exposed to sun

Will I ever stop moving plants round and round in my garden? After 21 years in this garden, it seems unlikely. Every year, I greet autumn with a long list of plants that need to be moved to a different spot. The reasons are manifold. An obvious one is that I have planted something in the wrong spot in the first place, because of not understanding its needs or its true nature. Huge shrubby perennials planted right beside paths; tiny ones planted at the back of borders. Moisture-loving plants put in soil that is too dry, or the reverse - Mediterranean plants put in heavy, damp soil. Robust, wide-growing plants that engulf and smother their timid neighbours. I have made every mistake in the book during my gardening life.

Pelargonium Big Red needs to be moved to a sunnier spot in my garden

I do now try to research about a plant before putting it in, and attempt to understand factors such as its need for sun vs. shade, its optimum soil and moisture requirements, and its ultimate height and spread. Often my errors have been made because I have been in too much of a hurry to get things in the ground so I haven't bothered to do my research. I have realised that finding out as much as I can beforehand pays off in the long run.

This Hemerocallis August Flame did not flower well this year because it is in too much shade

Another reason for needing to move plants is that the microclimate in the garden has changed. I have two areas in my garden for hot-coloured plants in hues of oranges, reds and yellows. One was a shaded area, sheltered by a giant old oak tree. Another was a sunny part of the garden that had originally no trees at all. Recently the oak tree had to be removed because it was dying - all my shade-loving Clivia, bromeliads, ferns and Kohleria there have subsequently been severely scorched by the hot summer sun and are looking terrible. As it has turned out, I have realised the other hot-coloured garden has become shaded due to the rapid growth of some lilly pillies and a tall Tibouchina that I planted a few years ago. Plants here such as daylilies, Canna, Pelargonium and Salvia are languishing - so a big swap is about to happen!

Another motive for moving plants is to do with colour clashes, as I enjoy combining specimens with a view to how the hues of their flowers and/or leaves look together. Sometimes such arrangements don't work out at all well: the plants don't bloom at the same time or the colours just don't look like I hoped they would. I once read a great tip for finding good combinations like this: pick a flower and walk around holding it up to other flowers and leaves to see how it looks. I need to do this more often!

Sunburnt bromeliad foliage in my garden

Moving perennials and small shrubs is relatively easy, and autumn and winter are the best times to carry out the operation - it is too stressful on the plant to do it in the hotter months (which is not to say that I never do it then!). It is wise to keep notes of what needs to be moved where when the inspiration strikes you during the year! The best day to do the deed is on a cool, overcast day, later in the day if possible. Make sure you have watered your plant well in the days leading up to the transplanting operation. Prepare the new hole before you dig up the plant, adding some compost and amalgamating this well into the soil where the hole is being dug. Some people recommend adding water to the hole before you put your plant into it. When digging up the plant, dig a reasonable distance from the rootball and get a good amount of soil with it, keeping it as intact as possible. Place the plant on a piece of hessian or a trap to carry it to its new hole and replant straight away, at the same level as it was in its previous spot. Water it in well with some Seasol added to your water, and mulch the surface around the plant (but not too close to the stem). Don't add fertiliser at this stage.

Opinions vary as to whether you should cut back the foliage or not when transplanting - some people argue that this reduces transpiration loss but others say that such cutting is a further stress on the plant. Spraying the foliage (before you dig up the plant) with a product such as DroughtShield that reduces water loss from leaves can be helpful. It can be a good idea to shelter the plant from the sun if possible for a few days after the operation. On a smaller plant, I sometimes place a large empty pot over the top, removing it at night. Larger plants could be protected with an umbrella or shadecloth, supported with a frame or some plant stakes. Keep the plant well watered until it shows signs of growth - and be vigilant for any attack by pests or diseases that may compromise its survival during the early stages.

Larger shrubs and trees present more of a challenge for transplanting. It can be useful to dig the trench around the plant a few weeks before you actually move it. The actual digging up can be quite a strenuous operation. I try now to really think through where I am going to plant something large so that I am not faced with this ordeal later on down the track!

Our gardens are constantly evolving because of all these changes - but to me that is part of the fun of gardening!

Reader Comments

  • By Tracey 2158 Monday, 23 March 2015

    I wrote my list yesterday and I am counting the days until I can begin the great annual move-a-thon! Great! I have to admit I moved some things yesterday - probably too soon! Deirdre

  • By Jan 2582 Monday, 23 March 2015

    I"ve been impatient and already moved an Agastache. Drought shield is a good idea - think I"ll go and attend to that now! As noted above, I too have been impatient and moved a few plants around at the weekend. I do think the DroughtShield helps. Deirdre

  • By Beth 4562 Monday, 23 March 2015

    I"m off to stock up on Drought Shield as well,cant wait for this hot weather to pass & yes my list gets longer each time I go for my daily stroll around my garden. We have had some long awaited rain over the weekend so it"s time to roll up the hoses & my sleeves get out the spade & get on with the transplanting...just love this time of year! "Happy Gardening" I too love this time of year because we can really get stuck into the garden. Good to know you have had some rain recently. Deirdre

  • By Chris 4034 Monday, 23 March 2015

    I really look forward to your blog each week. My gardening ability has changed. I have tried some cacti and succulents. They are all in small pots and on a stand where I can reach and control their light and water. This is just another form of what gardeners do. Thank you for giving us light and direction each week. Thanks for the feedback, Chris. I appreciate it. Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Monday, 23 March 2015

    Thank you Diedre, I am printing this to show my husband - he thinks I"m crazy because I"m regularly relocating plants. Despite doing all I can to research plant requirements sometimes I get it wrong or in my relatively new garden - I"m not yet fully aware of the sun/shade regime throughout the year of every nook & cranny. Also like you I enjoy playing with colour & texture and some plantings are experimental. I think there are so many factors at play in each microclimate in our garden and it does take a while to work out what grows best where. It is an ongoing learning process - but fun as well! Deirdre

  • By Maureen 2118 Monday, 23 March 2015

    Low and behold just taking break from digging out crowding clivias, broms, and other shadies to move elsewhere and in comes your timely blog!! Making room for Strobilanthes dyerianus from Tropical Breeze. One I had some years ago died virtually overnight two years ago and only two years old. Fingers crossed for longer life this time!! Good luck with that plant. I have had it die on me before now when it was in a more open position and I think it got too cold in winter. I now have it underneath the canopy of some tall camellias and so far, so good. I always try to remember to take cuttings each autumn of it, just in case. Deirdre

  • By Caroline 4105 Monday, 23 March 2015

    I so know this phenomenon of moving plants that have been hurriedly planted or just haven"t performed as well as expected. My family think my plants get dizzy in my attempt to find their ideal growing spot! I also do my research into specific needs of the plant but this doesn"t always work due to the reasons you"ve mentioned. So, once again looking to a shift around in the garden here in Brisbane. So far not very autumny - experiencing unusually hot temps. An impatient gardener I am. It is true that sometimes even with the research on the plant"s needs it doesn"t work out. I like to give a plant a few chances in different spots and it is interesting to learn from trial and error what works for a particular plant. Hope you get some cooler weather soon! Deirdre

  • By noeline 2081 Monday, 23 March 2015

    I thought it was only me who sent my family up the wall with my insistence of moving plants to better locations {despite the research}Sometimes plants just do not behave the way the experts tell us and like children develop and flourish where they are happiest.A very timely reminder Deidre to get the spade out:) Yes it is true that sometimes the experts are wrong with their advice especially when the information is from overseas. So many factors are at work in every spot in the garden. It is so good to see a plant flourish in the right spot, as you have said. Deirdre

  • By Gillian 2073 Monday, 23 March 2015

    I can almost see my plants twitching & I"m sure their roots clench with fear when my spade comes out at this time of year! Yes I do feel a bit mean when I dig something up but always am hopeful I am giving the plant a better chance in its new home! Deirdre

  • By Bren 2540 Monday, 23 March 2015

    Great blog! I am glad others do this too. I thought only I made such mistakes! I have always believed we do learn from our mistakes! Gardening is very complicated at times! Deirdre

  • By margaret 2122 Tuesday, 24 March 2015

    I relate entirely to the idea of moving plants, for various reasons. I do it frequently. I find using DroughtShield very beneficial when moving plants. About 5 year"s ago when we had a temperature of 40 degrees+ I moved a Pseudenanthemum, and it survived admirably. I also always use a seaweed product when transplanting as this seems to help the process. Thanks, Margaret - your tips to me have become part of my practice now! Deirdre

  • By Bren 2540 Tuesday, 24 March 2015

    I heard/read somewhere that Strelitzias and rhododendrons can usually not be moved successfully. Can anyone confirm this? And are there any other plants that do not tolerate being moved? I believe big old Strelitzia clumps are indeed very hard to move. I think also that anything with a tap root does not move well - even when they are seedlings. Would be interested to know of other plants too hard to move. Deirdre

  • By Helen 7256 Tuesday, 24 March 2015

    Rhododendrons can be moved if not too large. They are relatively shallow rooted. Have successfully moved an old rhodo that was about 1.5m tall. We dug out as much root ball as possible, and cut the plant back by half. With regular watering it took 18 months to recover and look completely happy in new position. Thanks for letting us know about that, Helen. Deirdre

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