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Fri, Jul 13th, 2001
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Virginia CooperMonday, July 9, 2001

Question: I need to move my perennials in late summer. Although this is not the right time for all of the plants, can you give suggestions of how to keep them alive? How should I prepare them? Should I trim them back?

Answer: Water everything really well at least a day before digging. Moist soil will cling to the roots better than dry and allow you to keep a good root ball around each plant. Dig generously around each plant, don't try to get it out with one shovelful, take your time and loosen the soil around the plant before the final lift.

Have ready several different sizes of pots, buckets or boxes lined with plastic bags, some plants' root mass may be bigger than you thought. Have some potting soil ready to add to your pots; enough so that all exposed roots will be covered by soil. If you have a lot of smaller plants go ahead and put them together in one larger pot and cover roots with extra soil.

Moving a household is a lot of work and getting the garden planted can take backseat to more important things like setting up beds and kitchen. You may need some time to prepare your new garden. Give your plants all they need to get by for a few weeks.

If something is blooming at moving time then cut back any flowers or buds, but otherwise I would wait till after transplanting to cut back anything, then I would only cut back foliage that has browned or wilted. Keep plants well watered after planting.

It's a good time of year for moving spring blooming bulbs; they are dormant now and should do just fine. Most other perennials will transplant well, I would be extra careful with peonies. They don't ever like to be moved and may not bloom again for several years.

Dig really deep for Lillies (lillium, not hemerocallis). No matter how deep you think they are, they are probably a bit deeper. Check the root mass and make sure you got the bulb otherwise you may have chopped it off. If it is late enough in the year you may be able to replant just the bulb and have it survive.
Dictamus or gas plant is another plant that doesn't like to be moved, if you have one take caution to get a big root mass.

All plants with taproots or deep woody roots, will be a challenge. This includes hollyhocks, elecampange, balloon flower, poppies, lupins or baptisia. You may just save some seeds from these to start in your new garden or buy new plants.

Keep your potted plants in the shade until you are ready to plant them in your new garden, keep the soil moist and you should have few problems. Starting a new garden is a good chance to work the soil nice and deep and add any amendments like compost, manure or purchase baled peat moss and work that in before planting. If you are removing sod to make your new garden watch for white grubs and wireworms, they would love to make a tasty snack out of the roots of your plants.

Have fun laying out your new garden; it's a great opportunity to change what didn't work well or to enhance what you really liked about your old garden. Maybe that certain shade of yellow coreopsis what too bright blooming next to the soft pink of your astibles, that kind of thing... Plan a day for transplanting when you are not in a hurry, take your time to do your soil work and you will be rewarded over and over.

A little color commentary from Miss Gertrude Jekyll, 'Groups of colour so arranged not only give the fullest strength value of which flowers are capable, but they give it in a way that strikes the beholder with an impression as of boldness tempered by refinement, whereas the same number of plants mixed up would only have conveyed a feeling of garish vulgarity, mingled with an uncomfortable sensation as of an undisciplined, crowded jumble of coloured material....'

Virginia Cooper writes and gardens with complete garish vulgarity from her garden in Mabel, she welcomes your questions and comment, via email: or by letter in care of the Journal.

Virginia Cooper

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