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Moving Plants, especially in Cold Weather


Q. My rose bush is near the path to our garage and frequently catches our clothing and scratches our arms. It was planted by previous owners, and I think I have a better place for it where it will be out of the way but still get good sun. My question is when and how should I move it? Thanks,
    ---Sonja in Bethlehem PA
A. Perfect timing, Sonja, as the ideal window for such work is about to open. First, let me assure you that roses take being relocated as well or better than any similarly sized plant. When I was arranging and rearranging the front of our house, I used to move the poor things around like checkers; and as long as I picked their new spot correctly—an area that gets sun first thing in the morning and has good airflow all day—they never seemed to mind. (Or die, which is especially good).

Wait until you see their new growth appear in the Spring, then prune the plant back as much as necessary to make the move less thornfully painful. Don't be shy; roses can take a hard pruning in the Spring, and all roses should be pruned in the Spring—at the very least to open up the interior of the plant and to remove any winter damaged or diseased sections.

You can carefully dig it up if you like, but I prefer to soak the soil for about an hour, pull on my heaviest leather gloves and gently and slowly pull the entire plant up and out. Then I'll typically drop it into a bucket of water to soak the roots for an hour or so before the next step. (Newly arrived bare root roses should always have their roots soaked in a bucket of water for a few hours before planting, and while this step isn't necessary with a move, it won't hurt.)

Then dig a wide hole that isn't very deep, place a cone-shaped mountain of high-quality yard-waste compost in the bottom and spread the roots of the rose out overtop, like an octopus sitting on a rock. Other than the 'cone of compost', don't add anything good at this stage; fill the hole back up with the same soil you removed. (Otherwise, the roots will stay in that nice warm little womb of good soil, which you don't want them to do.)

Warning: Do not bury your rose deeply or cover the stem with anything—especially stupid shredded bark, stupid dyed wood or any other stupid mulch. Many roses are grafted, and if you accidentally cover the graft, you give the rootstock (which may be the pestiferous multiflora rose) a chance to take over. And even 'own roots' roses should be planted nice and high; it's just much better for the plant. Then mulch around the newly-installed plant with an inch or two of compost (again—no wood mulch and no mulch of any kind touching the stem). Then water DEEPLY at ground level (don't wet the leaves) in the morning every other day until we get rain.

Q. Hi! I'm writing to you in January, but we're moving ten miles away in March and I want to take some of my plants. (I have lots of hostas, sage and lavender, black eyed Susan, ornamental grasses, and bee balm.) I am generally comfortable moving plants around; but as I write this, we have five inches of snow, and I know the ground might still be frozen on moving day. What, if anything, can I move at this time of year? And how the heck do I do it? Thanks!
    ---Stephanie in Clayton, OH
A. Well, first we have to consider the legality. Do you have permission to do this? If you sold the home, that landscaping is included in the sale; and unless prior permission was given in writing, those plants must stay. And even if it's a different arrangement, you should still avoid leaving a 'scorched earth' look behind.

No matter what the legal deal may be, you, the soil, you, the plants and especially you would suffer greatly if you tried to pull these puppies out of frozen ground; an uglier horticultural horror I can't imagine. (And how would you even find the hostas? They have the good sense to be invisible right now!) So wait. And if you ARE allowed to take the plants, come back in the Spring.

The bee balm should be easy to cut back and dig up; you can gently pull black eyed Susan out of soaking wet soil very easily early in the season; and the hostas will enjoy being dug up and divided soon after they appear above ground. But it would probably be a visual crime to take the ornamental grasses and herbs. Those I advise you leave behind and start anew.

Q. Mike: It is mid-January as I write this. I am leaving my boyfriend and moving to a new apartment. Can I hack into the frozen ground and dig up the root balls to take my prized garden plants with me, or do I need to keep him on good terms at least until spring? And how would I care for the frozen plants?
    ---Paula in Philly
Hmm; I think we have a little bit of what's known as 'transference' going on here, Paula. These poor plants are NOT your boyfriend, and it wouldn't be fair to take your new feelings for him out on them. (Although I suspect your anger would dissipate after four or five fruitless hours of trying to pickaxe your way through frozen clay.) And again, if it's HIS house, you can't—or at least shouldn't—turn the front yard into the final scene from Caddyshack.

So if you have a new home for them (you said you're moving to an apartment, which implies the opposite), wait until Spring, when all moods are better.

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