Tag Archives: transplanting

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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Want to Move Your Plants Without Killing Them? Try Trenching

Plants stand, mulched in their trench, until their move to a permanent home.  Identifiable tenants (from front) include autumn brilliance serviceberry, Cheyenne mockorange, Genista lydia and Isanti dogwood.

Plants stand, mulched in their trench, until their move to a permanent home. Identifiable tenants (from front) include autumn brilliance serviceberry, Cheyenne mockorange, Genista lydia and Isanti dogwood.

Have you ever turned down a friend’s offer of free plants because you didn’t know where to plant them? Or have you missed an opportunity to move plants from one home to another because you didn’t know how to care for them? If those occasions arise again, consider parking your trees, shrubs and perennials in a temporary trench. That way, you can keep them alive while you prepare a more permanent location for them.

I recently sold my Denver home to a developer. It’s not something I wanted to do, but because my house had severe mold issues and was sitting on valuable land, selling the house for a scrape was the most sensible option.

Fortunately, the builder told me that I could take all of the landscape plants with me. That, of course, wasn’t feasible. So I gave many of the plants away to neighbors so my babies could live on in the neighborhood. There were quite a few plants, though, that I took with me—stalwarts, such as Genista lydia, Isanti dogwood, serviceberry and Cheyenne mockorange.

I moved the plants temporarily to my sister’s home in Windsor, CO in late February, which is just about the worst possible time to move plants. I dug a trench about 1 foot wide, 25 feet long and 5 inches deep. The ground was frozen, so the clay soil came up in massive, solid chunks. I then placed the plants in the ground, preserving their root balls as best I could, and replaced the soil chunks, piling them around the root balls. Needless to say, there were all kinds of air pockets around the roots—not a good situation. But as the weather improved and the soil softened, I began filling in the air pockets.

It’s now late March, and the plants are starting to bud out and behave normally.

Shade-loving Corydalis ophiocarpa stays alive and even puts on new growth in the sunny trench.

Shade-loving Corydalis ophiocarpa stays alive and even puts on new growth in the sunny trench.

Is this a good long-term situation for the plants? Absolutely not. But for the 2 ½ months until I move to my own place and transplant them, they should be fine. Even my corydalis, which prefers shade, is hanging in there, putting on new growth in the sunny trench. I planted my ground covers in an area of the trench that’s about an inch below grade to help them retain water in Windsor’s dry, windy climate.

I water the plants every other day. It’s a good idea to keep them mulched for water conservation, weed prevention and soil temperature moderation. Dig your trench a foot or so deep, if the soil’s not too hard, to provide maximum room for roots. And try to move your plants when they’re not in bloom, so they can focus on growing roots instead of producing flowers.

Tiny red leaflets emerge from stems of the fire meidiland ground cover rose.

Tiny red leaflets emerge from stems of the fire meidiland ground cover rose.

The next time someone offers you plants or you move to a new home, don’t leave beloved plants on the table simply because you don’t have the perfect spot for them yet. Dig a trench to create a small parking lot. Chances are, your plants won’t mind, as long as they don’t have to stay there for more than about 3 months.

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Seven Secrets for Successful Tree Planting

Tools you’ll need for transplanting a tree include a garden shovel for digging, a spade (optional) for scooping soil, a hand cultivator for root fluffing, a saw for slicing into the root ball, and a tape measure for measuring the root ball and hole.

With nurseries discounting their plants by 30 to 50 percent, fall is a great time to buy and plant trees.

When planting a tree, it’s important to dig a hole 3 times the width of the root ball and no deeper than the root ball itself.  You’ll probably receive these directions when you buy the tree.  However, there are some fine points for planting container-grown trees that instructions frequently don’t mention.  So here they are:

  1. Look for the root flare at the bottom of the tree trunk.  The root flare is the area of the trunk that is slightly wider than the rest of the trunk.  Sometimes growers will cover up the root flare in the container so that the trunk looks like a telephone pole all the way to the soil.  If you don’t see a wider area at the bottom of the trunk, gently remove the soil in the container until you see the root flare.
  2. After removing the tree from its container, score the sides of the root ball after removing the pot.  This means making 3 to 5 vertical slices into the root ball about 1 inch deep all the way from the bottom edge of the root ball to about  half of the way up. Then run a hand cultivator along the root ball horizontally to pull the roots away from the root ball so they’ll grow out into the soil and gather nutrients instead of continuing to grow around the root ball.  This is called root fluffing.
  3. On the bottom of the root ball, make 1 to 2 slices 3 to 4 inches deep.  Check for girdling roots, that is, large roots growing in circles around the root ball.  Girdling roots can destabilize the tree and eventually kill it.  If you find a girdling root, cut it and see if you can pull the remainder of the root so it will grow away from the plant.  If you can’t, cut off the girdling root completely.  If it looks like all the large roots are girdling roots that can’t be straightened out, consider taking the tree back to the nursery.  If you bought it on sale, though, you may be stuck.
  4. Check the depth of the hole to make sure the root flare is even with the soil grade or up to one inch above the soil grade.  If you plant the tree too deeply, water will collect in the depression around the trunk, causing the roots to rot.
  5. Once you have placed the tree in the planting hole, turn it so the best side of the tree faces the direction from which it will be viewed most often.
  6. Remove any tags from the tree.  As the tree grows, tags can act as a tourniquet, digging into a branch.
  7. After filling in the planting hole, trim any suckers from the base of the tree before mulching and watering the tree.

One more thing. . .my cats, Toto and Steve, like to sharpen their claws on the soft bark of young trees.  If you face the same issue, install a cage made of plastic chicken wire around the trunk.

For additional details on planting trees, refer to this publication, The Science of Planting Trees, which is available on the Colorado State University Extension website at http://www.cmg.colostate.edu/gardennotes/633.html.

Disclaimer: Blossoms & Blueprints and Deb Courtner assume no responsibility for injuries, damage, loss or inconvenience incurred as a result of using information from this blog.  (Sorry, folks, it’s the world we live in.)

Notice the root flare at the bottom of the trunk of this mature crabapple. When transplanting a young tree, make sure the root flare is at ground level or up to one inch above grade.

After you’ve fluffed the roots with a hand cultivator, they should look like this. Now the roots can start growing away from the root ball into the soil to obtain nutrients.

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