Q & A: Can I transplant established plants and prune my shrubs yet?


First let’s talk about transplanting….  Perhaps a plant is too close to another, it’s grown too big or just hasn’t done what you expected.  For whatever reason you wish to move things, it’s getting real close to the time you can do it.  If you are not a seasoned digger and know the long process of digging and moving plants, the best time to transplant most evergreens and shrubs is AFTER we receive a hard killing freeze.  Cold weather is knocking on our door and soon plants will begin to change color and defoliate their leaves.   This is the tell tale sign they are going dormant.

By waiting another week or so for the cold weather, your success rate for transplanting will increase tenfold.  Plants shut down and prepare for old man winter.  By taking a sharp spade and creating a earth ball around the base of a tree or shrub, the plant can be moved to a new location with no stress on the plant.  The key is to start large and keep whittling away until you see many roots.  If you dig too big of a ball, it may break when you go to move it.  If you dig to small, you may not have retained enough root mass for the plant to flourish.  You need to be like Goldilocks and pick the right bowl of porridge or in this case root ball size.

Once dug, move to its new location and plant.  We always like to use soil conditioner to amend the soil which predominantly is clay based in our area.  Dig a hole 1.5 to 2 times the width of the root ball and plant elevated from the surrounding soils a couple of inches.  This assures good drainage and allows a fudge factor for settling in case you have dug the hole too deep.  The mixture of pine bark mulch soil conditioner and clay should be placed an and around the root ball as back fill for the plant.  We compact the soil when planting and create a little basin or bowl around the root ball.  This is a great thing to do to help the plant capture and hold water.  Add a 2-3″ layer of mulch on top and water plant.  If dry weather continues, you should try and water once a week.  Give the plant a good soaking so you know it’s good and moist.  Typically the fall rains are enough to keep plants irrigated.

Now, moving on to trimming.  It is always best to wait for a hard killing freeze as well.  Once dormancy sets in, the thinning process can begin.  Keep in mind, the rule of thumb is, plants that bloom in the spring, you do NOT want to prune.  Camellias, azaleas, hydrangeas which flower in a ball not a cone, hawthorns and azaleas are a few plants which you would not want to prune now.  If you really feel you need to trim these, keep in mind, you will be cutting off your blossoms for next year.  Sometimes you got to bite the bullet and do what you got to do.

Grasses are a debatable plant.  In our experience, leave them untouched till spring.  The leaves and plumes add some winter interest.

Roses are another fickle plant.  You must really wait till they drop their leaves.  This may not happen until late in November, or throughout December or January.  They must be dormant and pruned down to 12-18″ tall.  As for knockout roses, they pretty much can fend for themselves.  Our roses bloomed some years into late December and we just let them be.  We waited till spring to prune them.  They were fine!  In strange winters which are brutally cold, we have lost a knockout rose which we just left alone and did not mulch.  This is a rare occurrence but could happen.  Many of our clients will cut knockout roses down now and have no problems.  You can error on the side of caution or gamble on the weather.

And speaking of arborvitaes, and junipers and pines and all newly planted evergreens, be prepared for a defoliation of needles and leaves on the interior of the plant.  First year evergreens can lose up to 50% or more of their interior leaves and needles.  They simply turn yellow and fall.  Your plant is not dying.  This is something that occurs until the plant gets established and gets it’s feeder roots out.  This happens with all new evergreens.

As for perennials, it’s a great time to clean up the dead leaves and trim back growth in preparation for winter.  By removing diseased leaves and dead branches, your perennials will start fresh and healthy come spring.  A light coating of mulch on top of perennials will help insulate their roots from freeze and thaws this winter giving them a better chance of surviving.

For specific questions on plants, stop in at All Seasons and speak with one of our experts.  We are all here to help prepare you for oncoming cold weather.