To move or not to move?

This is one of a new series of posts based on real questions I have been asked. Feel free to add to the answers or include your ideas and experiences

When we make a garden we rarely put plants in quite the right place. They may grow and outgrow their place, we may change our plans and the plants no longer fit or …

I have already moved a few plants, even though the garden is barely four years old. Most have been moved because my plans for the area changed. The rose (above) was moved after two years because the area was really too boggy and I wanted to put it where it would grow better – it moved successfully and is much happier in its new spot. This area is now recently dug and I have cornus and willows to plant which should cope with the moist conditions. And it gives me a chance to collect as many Cornus alba cultivars as I can find.

I tend to get asked about moving roses more than any other plant, possibly because people get very attached to rose bushes that were given as gifts or have special memories. In many cases they are old, gnarled bushes and they won’t move that well but roses are tough plants and often survive even though it would often be better to buy a new one.

But another common reason people want to move plants is because they are moving and they want to take a plant with them. There are lots of problems with this. Firstly, you can really only dig up plants and replant them when they are dormant. In this part of the world that means from November to early March. Evergreens are never really dormant so are best moved in spring, just as they are starting to grow. If moved in winter they lose water from their leaves and can wilt, even though they may not show signs of distress. Sheltering them with some netting is often a good idea to keep the wind off.

The problem is that when you dig up a shrub you sever the roots, usually quite close to the stem, so you can actually move the thing, and this means you cut off virtually all the young roots that are active and that take up water. This is quite a shock to the plant and, with such reduced roots, it will not be able to sustain all the shoots that will grow in spring. So it is essential that the stems and branches are reduced to balance the amount of roots and shoots. This means that you will not have flowers for a few years and you will need to control the new growth and reshape the plant. And, of course, you will need to water frequently in the first summer to make sure the shrub gets established.

You can move quite large shrubs. Years ago I moved a huge (well 3m) rhododendron but it had to be cut back to stumps about 1m high. It was leafless after the pruning and it was moved in April. I wrapped the trunks with hessian, that was kept moist to try to stimulate new shoots from the bare stumps and it soon settled, made new growth and was a decent shape and flowering again after three years.

The question that stimulated this post is from someone who wanted to move a jasmine. They were moving and wanted to take it with them. They wondered if they could dig it up, pot it ready for the move and then replant it.

The good thing was that they were planning ahead. I also moved and I did pot up a few plants and brought them with me, but not many. If you know you are going to move it does make sense to have plants in pots or to pot up plants in readiness. Of course, as I always say, use a loam-based compost. The problem is that, unless the jasmine is just a few years old, it will be wrapped round a support and will have an extensive root system. It will have to be severely pruned just to be able to move it. In this case, if it is an old, well-established plant, I think it is best to leave it where it is and buy a new one. Moving established plants is always a risk and with all the other things you have to do when moving house it is easy to neglect your plants in pots.

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8 Comments on “To move or not to move?”

  1. tonytomeo
    December 9, 2022 at 7:38 am #

    Goodness! Besides relocating plants to better situations within their same garden, I have brought some of them to a few homes that I have lived in. One of my common zonal geraniums followed me from my Pa’s home in Montara in about 1982 to every home that I have lived in since then, including all through college. It even lived on the windowsill in our dormitory room. I have rhubarb that I got from my paternal paternal great grandfather before I was in kindergarten, and Iris pallida that I got from my maternal maternal great grandmother at about the same time.

  2. Paddy Tobin
    December 9, 2022 at 9:07 am #

    We are dithering over moving a plant of Rosa ‘Tottering by Gently’ which was only planted earlier this year. It is still in full leaf and still has an odd flower. We will wait until the turn of the year, I think. Present weather is against moving anything.

    • thebikinggardener
      December 9, 2022 at 9:33 am #

      That should move fine but today is not the day for doing it! Only -2c here but looks and feels a lot colder. A day to keep off the grass!

  3. Jaye Marie and Anita Dawes
    December 9, 2022 at 9:28 am #

    Rather than almost destroying the plant, I try to root some cuttings so I can at least take a part of my friend with me…

    • thebikinggardener
      December 9, 2022 at 9:32 am #

      If you plan ahead that is by far the best idea. You can have a young, vigorous plant and still keep the connection.

      • Jaye Marie and Anita Dawes
        December 9, 2022 at 7:39 pm #

        I have tried to dig up my favourites in the past, with some very sad results…

        • thebikinggardener
          December 11, 2022 at 8:10 am #

          I am sorry to hear that. If you try when the plants are dormant you stand a fighting chance but trying when they are in leaf usually ends in failure.

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