By C. Rae Hozer
My landscape is perennial–based. There are vines, trees, shrubs as well as herbaceous (soft-stemmed) vegetation in assorted categories-ornamentals, herbs and food crops like rhubarb. Annuals in containers are used to add splashes of color. At this time of year, I usually have a few recently purchased plants waiting to be transplanted (see the accompanying photo).
Others with yards filled predominately with perennials know these plants are not maintenance-free. Winter hardy plants placed in the right sunlight situation and given the proper amount of moisture and fertilizer for their species tend to multiply by spreading and/or self-seeding. Digging up the overabundance is a necessary springtime task if garden beds are to look neat. I either relocate those plants on my property or send an email alert out to fellow Master gardeners asking them to stop by to get free plants for their yards.
Whether adding annuals which last one season or perennials expected to come back year after year, transplants require special care. The stress of too much cold (frosty nights), too much heat (sunlight) or drying out (wind) can send recent transplants into shock. Established landscape plants require from an inch to an inch and one half of water per week depending on the species. Transplants need more than the minimum amount of water because their roots don’t take in moisture efficiently, at first. Herbaceous plants adapt more quickly than woody ones to a new home. Relocated shrubs and trees need extra water for about two years during droughty periods.
Be gentle with tender, young plants. Don’t hold, pull or lift transplants by the stem, instead grab the root ball or leaves. If a stem is damaged, the transplant will probably be stunted or may die. On the other hand, a few damaged leaves will quickly be replaced as the plant grows. To remove a plant with the least damage to roots, hold the pot upside down then firmly tap the container’s bottom and sides. If the plant doesn’t slide out easily, squeeze the sides of the container or cut the container away from around the root ball.
Work quickly so plants do not remain out of their containers long before putting them in the ground. Tender young roots dry out and may begin to die within minutes of exposure to wind or direct sun. At mid-day and in early afternoon the sun is directly overhead. Sunshine then can be very harsh even on a cool day in May. Transplanting on a cloudy day or in the evening reduces the risk of transplant shock.
I use a dilute mixture of water and high-phosphate fertilizer called “starter solution” for herbaceous (but not for woody) transplants. Soak the pot in the starter solution and water mix before planting. Also fill the hole with this liquid before setting the plant in it. High-phosphate fertilizers give a boost to root formation, a first step in establishing new plantings. Using starter solution seems to help retain soil around the roots making the root mass easier to handle, too. However, tree experts recommend trees and shrubs get no fertilizer in their planting hole. Nor should high nitrogen plant food be applied to woodies during their first year after transplant.
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Plateau Gardening is written by Master Gardeners for gardeners in Tennessee’s Upper Cumberland Region. Contact UT Extension Cumberland County at P.O. Box 483, Crossville, TN 38557 (484-6743) for answers to horticulture questions, free publications and how to become a Master Gardener. Send email comments or yard and garden inquiries to Master Gardener Rae, MGardenerRae@frontiernet.net.