Does Plant Trenching Work? The Story 2 Years Later

The transplanted Veronica pectinata has grown to four times its original size and is now 3 inches high and 2 feet wide.

In February 2015, I moved from my home in Denver to my sister’s home in Windsor, Colorado for a temporary stay while waiting for the closing on my house in Fort Collins.

I brought plants with me from my Denver home, as I wrote in a March 2015 blog post on trenching plants. I dug a trench and used it as a temporary parking spot for the plants. I had intended to replant the plants after three months or so. But that three months stretched into seven.

One Genista lydia (foreground) survived. It’s now 10 inches high and 28 inches wide. In a few weeks, it will be smothered with bright yellow blossoms.

Now that two years have passed, I would like to report how those plants fared. The plants included two Genista lydias, one Veronica pectinata, three Pawnee Buttes sand cherries (Prunus besseyi ‘Pawnee Buttes’), two Meidiland fire roses, one Cheyenne mockorange (Philadelphus lewisii ‘PWY01S’ Cheyenne), one bloody cranesbill (Geranium sanguineum), one regent serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia ‘Regent’), two Corydalis ophiocarpa, and three Isanti dogwoods (Cornus sericea ‘Isanti’).

Keep in mind that the ground was frozen when I dug the trench and installed the plants, so there were undoubtedly air pockets around some of the roots. Backfilling a trench with chunks of ice-encrusted clay soil is never a good idea, but I was desperate. During the 2 ½ months that I stayed at my sister’s place, I watered the plants every other day. But once I moved out, the plants received no water other than rainfall until September 2015, when I transplanted some of them to my new yard.

Also, the plants suffered high winds and blasting sun, as well as munching from horses and rabbits.

In other words, I would have been hard pressed to find more miserable conditions for preserving plants.

So, which plants survived this ordeal?

One Pawnee Buttes sand cherry survived in spite of repeated munchings by rabbits and horses. This plant is now 11 inches high and 30 inches wide, and is fast approaching bud break.

Survivors: One Genista lydia, one Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, one Meidiland fire rose, one Cheyenne mockorange, one bloody cranesbill, and one Veronica pectinata.

Decedents: One Genista lydia, two Pawnee Buttes sand cherries, one Meidiland fire rose, one regent serviceberry, two Corydalis ophiocarpa (shade-loving plants), and three Isanti dogwoods.

Concerning the survivors, the Genista lydia still looks straggly, but is gradually filling in, as is the Pawnee Buttes sand cherry. The Meidiland fire is small, but it looks happy. I ended up giving the Cheyenne mockorange to my sister. She divided it into three clumps. Two of the clumps survived. The bloody cranesbill and Veronica pectinata are performing like champs.

Plump buds on the Pawnee Buttes and cherry look as though they’ll burst open within the next week or so. The foliage of this drought-tolerant Colorado native turns a brilliant red in the fall.

As for the decedents, the Meidiland fire rose lived and was transplanted in my new yard. But I didn’t have a sunny spot to park it. So I planted it in a shady spot, which hastened its death. And in fairness to the dogwoods, I have to say that they were in the ground for almost two years because I didn’t have a place for them. But they stuck it out for months until death. The rest of the decedents just conked out over the course of seven months.

So from all of this, I conclude that trenching works well for moving plants, as long as you have decent planting conditions and can take care of the transplants. My plants experienced horrible planting conditions and neglect, yet some of them have survived it, and a few have even thrived. Interestingly, with some identical plants, such as Genista lydia and Pawnee Buttes sand cherry, one plant lived while one or more died. I expected the Genista lydia to transplant much easier than it did, given that it’s drought-tolerant.

If you want to improve your chances of success when trenching, backfill your trench with a mixture of good topsoil and compost, such as two parts soil to one part compost if you have heavy clay soil. Avoid planting in areas with strong western afternoon sun, if possible, so you won’t stress the plants while they’re vulnerable. And keep your plants watered without over-watering them.

Once you’re ready to move the plants to a permanent home, make sure you install them so the plant’s crown is even with or slightly above ground level. If you install plants too deeply, the crown and roots may rot from water accumulation.

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