Keeping Your Hands Dirty:

Winter Transplanting

Do you have the right plant in the wrong place? Itís painful to see a favorite struggle to survive in a less-than-perfect environment. Maybe your shrubs have outgrown their space and swallowed your sidewalk? Successfully moving big plants to new homes is easier than you might think.

First of all, make sure youíre not making the same mistake twice. Give careful consideration to the suitability of the new site. Will there be enough room for the plantís full growth? Is the sun/shade exposure right? Can you give it water for a couple of years while it gets re-established?

Winter Care For New Plants

Our winters are mild and our soils donít completely freeze in winter, so your new transplant doesnít require a lot of special protection from cold weather, according to Esther Lee, nursery manager at Grange Co-op in Medford. Plants are dormant and the ground serves as an insulator for sleeping roots. A layer of mulch about 3 inches deep helps moderate temperatures and prevents weeds from competing with your transplant.

In windy areas, stake trees and shrubs for the first year to prevent new roots from being ripped and keep the plant from toppling over. A very cold winter wind may burn foliage so you may want to wrap or cover favorite plants with burlap or a garden wrap. And donít forget to water during a winter dry spell.

ď[Dormancy] is the time to move trees, shrubs, and perennials,Ē says Esther Lee, nursery manager at Grange Co-op in Medford. From November until about the middle of February, depending on temperatures, plant sap is down and plants are less likely to suffer shock from transplanting.

In the Rogue Valley, good timing depends on the rainfall and soil composition. In a wet winter, clay soil may be too soggy for January transplanting. Check it by digging into it with a shovel, says Lee. If it does not break up and stays in a wet clump, donít transplant, warns Lee. Compacted soils are very dense and difficult for plant roots to penetrate.

Covering the area with a tarp will help keep additional rainfall off. As it dries, you may be able to break up the soil by adding dry compost, says Lee. If not, wait till warmer and drier weather. In low soggy areas, you might be better off planting above the soil level in a berm or mound. Hereís why.

The most common cause of death for plants is poor drainage, says J.D. Door, manager of Jakeís Nursery in Eagle Point. To check your drainage, dig a hole 18Ē square and 18Ē deep. Fill it with water and check it in five to six hours. If it still has water in it, your drainage must be corrected or your plant will drown. Plant an inch or so above the surrounding grade in your amended soil and mulch to cover the top of the root ball. Or consider planting on a berm or mound, as in local orchards.

Before you dig up your plant, have the new hole ready so its roots are exposed only briefly. A rule of thumb is to dig the new hole twice as deep and three times as wide as the root ball. Add soil amendments and organic matter to the native soil, especially if itís clay.

Dig up as much of the root ball as you can. Door recommends including 12 inches of root ball per 1 inch caliper of trunk. Dig with your shovel at about a 45-degree angle around the root ball. You will cut some of the roots, but donít panic. It wonít kill the plant.

Water thoroughly, including a dose of root stimulator such as Vitamin B-1, says Lee. She recommends a blend of vitamins and minerals for the best results. Or give your plant a low-nitrogen 0-10-10 fertilizer for root development, she says. Plan to give your transplanted shrub or tree a deep soaking twice a week for three to five summers until itís established in its new home.

Not all larger plants can be moved. Some of our natives, including manzanita and madrone, donít like to be moved at all, says Door.

So donít give up on your right plant in the wrong place. Try giving it a new home. Then sit back and enjoy your improved garden.


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