October is a very busy time in the garden. Temperatures and humidity are lower, and the days are still long enough to squeeze in some gardening time in the morning before work or for an hour or two at the end of the day. It is also a good time to transplant small shrubs and trees or plants that have not been in the ground for long. It is not the time to transplant large shrubs, such as azaleas or camellias, or trees unless you have done plenty of prep work during the previous winter or spring. Just like painting your home, preparation is everything in gardening, especially when it comes to transplanting large plants. It is an intimidating process, but the right groundwork will make the project a little less daunting.
Fortunately, many homeowners in established, older neighborhoods in the Midlands are interested in saving mature shrubs and trees when renovations or re-landscaping is planned for their properties. The most important step in transplanting large shrubs and trees is root pruning, which is a simple process and will help tremendously in the successful transplanting of the desired plants. Root pruning is exactly what it sounds like. It is the process of pruning the roots around the plant in preparation for moving it in the next six months or longer. If the plant is to be moved in the fall (October or November), it is recommended to do root pruning during the previous March. If the plant is to be moved in the spring (March or April), root pruning should be accomplished in October of the previous year.
Root prune deciduous plants after most or all of the leaves have fallen off. If you plan to root prune in the spring, do it before flower buds begin to open. Plants may not thrive if this procedure is carried out at the wrong time. Root prune and transplant when the weather is mild, not during harsh summer or winter months. Root pruning promotes rapid root growth that helps replenish roots left behind during transplanting. The same principle applies when planting a plant that has become severely root bound in a nursery pot. The plant will acclimate quickly and successfully if roots are disturbed a little so that they can begin to grow in the new environment, whether it is the ground or a container.
Begin the root-pruning process by drawing a circle around the plant that will eventually be moved. Then tie up the branches of the tree or shrub so that they do not get damaged or broken. Dig a trench right outside the circle that has been drawn around the plant. Put the soil removed from the trench into a wheelbarrow or large bucket. After the entire trench has been dug, work the saved soil with the shovel or gloved hands to remove any rocks or dirt clods. Add a small amount of organic material such as mushroom compost or Erth Food to improve the soil. Add this amended soil back to the trench. This is where the new roots will develop and will be much easier to dig when the time is right to move the plant. Water the plant well and mark on a calendar when the plant will be ready to transplant. Remember to untie the branches so the shrub or tree will return to normal.
Fast forward six to eight months to the time to move the plants or trees. I like to prune the shrub by one-third before transplanting. This will help the roots support a smaller tree or shrub when it is moved. Make sure to use very sharp loppers to avoid damage from the pruning. Before digging the plant, tie the branches as before to avoid breakage or damage. Mark the front of the plant to remember to position it in its new location in the garden. Also, mark the trunk where it meets the soil. When replanting, make sure this mark is an inch or so above the soil to allow for settling. Avoid planting the shrub or tree too deeply, especially if transplanting azaleas.
Shrubs that are less than 3 feet tall and trees that are less than an inch in diameter are easily transplanted “bareroot,” which means that most or all of the soil is removed before replanting. This makes it easier to move because it will not weigh as much and the hole to which it will be moved will not have to be quite as large. Bareroot plants should definitely be transplanted when they are dormant; it is better to do this in early spring or late fall. I like to water the roots before I replant.
Larger, dormant shrubs, evergreen shrubs (such as holly), and larger trees should be moved with as large a root ball as is manageable. To do this, dig the plant right outside the trench area. Carefully lift the plant from the ground. Place the plant on top of a tarp or large piece of burlap and carefully move the shrub or tree with its large, heavy root ball to the new desired spot in the garden. Gently water the root ball so that not much of the soil is disturbed.
Replanting the shrub or tree is the fun part. It is extremely important to prepare the new planting hole in advance so that the transplant spends as little time out of the ground as possible. Dig the hole 50 percent wider than the bare root or root ball of the plant that is to be moved. Make sure that the hole is slightly deeper than the root ball of the plant, but add enough high-quality soil and compost to bring the level up to the same height as the root ball. If not, the plant will eventually settle too deeply into the new hole and could “drown.”
I do not add fertilizer at this point because it could burn the new fibrous roots that have grown after root pruning. Make sure the roots are spread out in the new hole and have plenty of room to grow. Refill the hole with the existing soil. Eliminate rocks or large dirt clods. Pat the soil down around the plant with your hands and then gently with your feet. Make sure not to force the plant too low in the hole. Water gently and frequently, and mulch with clean pine straw or high-quality hardwood mulch to maintain moisture. If transplanting a large or tall tree, it may be helpful to stake it with wooden stakes and garden twine to ensure that it grows straight up in its new location in the garden.
Transplanting large shrubs and trees is not for the timid or impatient gardener. I commend all gardeners who go to the huge effort to save mature trees and shrubs. It makes me so happy to see beautiful, old camellias, sasanquas, and azaleas saved from the trash heap during new building or renovation projects. Large trees can be extremely difficult to move unless a tree spade is used. I applaud those ambitious gardeners who try! In my experience, healthy azaleas are relatively easy to transplant because they have such a nice, shallow root system. The key is to be prepared. Do the proper root pruning at the right time and monitor the plants closely after they have been moved. It is so rewarding when they thrive in their new location in the garden. It also saves much money because large plants can be expensive to buy.
Take a stroll around the garden now. Decide if any shrubs or trees need to be moved. Start root pruning this month to begin the process. Good luck!
Chores For The October Gardener
As the days begin to cool, it is difficult to resist the tug of the garden.
• Perennials and biennials, such as foxgloves, should be planted now.
• Perennials that have outgrown their space in the perennial border should be dug and divided. Find new spots for them in the garden or pot them and share with other gardening friends.
• Cut back any perennials that are going into dormancy to make the garden look tidier.
• Always wanted poppies or Queen Anne’s lace in the garden? Sow seeds now and wait for their beautiful surprise in the spring.
• October is a great time to revamp the herb garden. Plant parsley, sage, and rosemary for wonderful herbs all winter long.
• Now is a fantastic time to transplant ajuga.
• Prune any evergreens that have become overgrown during our long spring and summer growing season.
• If you would like to have green grass all winter, now is the time to overseed with annual rye grass. Centipede grass does not respond well to annual rye, but St Augustine and Zoysia seem to do well if the rye grass is not too thick.
• Put down fresh pine straw or hardwood mulch after the leaves have fallen from the trees. There is nothing like fresh mulch to make the garden look neat.
• Dragon wing begonias root easily; if there are any that have gotten leggy, pinch them off and stick them in a vase of water for a week or so. After the roots have sprouted, pop them in a pot with quality, light potting soil and place on your interior windowsill for flowers all fall and winter.
• Peruse your garden and decide if any plant has outgrown its space. Or, if you are planning building or renovation projects, now is the time to root prune trees and shrubs for transplanting in the spring.
• Redefine bed lines if they have gotten messy.
• Check outdoor lighting for any burned-out bulbs or fixtures that need repair or replacing.
• Check irrigation system before turning it off for winter.
• Bring in house plants.
• Enjoy this fabulous time in the garden!
What’s blooming? Buddleia, roses, tea olive, ageratum, blackberry lily, Begonia grandis, salvia, chrysanthemum, dahlia, lantana, Farfugium, plumbago, Rudbeckia, ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum, zinnias.