In a perfect world, when you move a perennial the new location is ready when you are. But who lives in a perfect world? Not gardeners, that’s for sure.
Last season I took a look around and decided that this spring I would make some major changes in a flower border that had been in place for several years. OK, it was the summer before last, but last spring zipped past before I noticed.
Part of the problem is that plants should be moved when they are dormant. If winter lingers you can’t get into the garden in time. And when warm weather breaks out too soon, you can miss the window. But this year has been perfect. A cold February kept them dozing, and mid March provided weather that made it possible to go outside and do gardening stuff.
A timely start, though, brings its own problems. For one thing, the work outruns the planning, and I have plants out of the ground before I had a good idea where they should go. Then there are all those bulbs popping up just where you want the perennials planted. Disturb them now and no flowers. They can’t be safely moved until late June. But what to do with the plants you’ve already dug up?
Nursery pots to the rescue. You know, those black plastic pots, one and two gallon size, from plant purchases past piled in the garage. If you have been so injudicious as to throw them out, consider an early morning walk on garbage day. You will need a bunch of them. Depending on how prosperous a plant has been over the years, it will need dividing into two, four, or more pieces, each in its own container.
Some perennials form clumps where the soil is held together solidly by fine roots. These can be dug out and cut with a sturdy knife like a pie. Others have thick roots tangled together. They are better divided by sticking in two spading forks back to back and prying them apart. Massive, tough roots like old hostas can be attacked with a saw. With any of these you may have to slice some off the bottom to fit them into the pots.
Usually putting garden soil in a container is taboo, but in this case go ahead. After all, they’ll be back in the ground before the potted soil has a chance to turn to adobe.
If you want to keep one of the divisions in a container for the season, though, you should use bagged artificial potting soil or amend the existing soil mightily with compost and ground bark.
Potted perennials can be a great accent for deck or patio. Some adapt with enthusiasm, some are good for a season, some are sulky. The best way to find out is to try.
The temporarily potted perennials can now wait until you are ready to plant them. Give them the light conditions they were used to, water regularly, and feed with a liquid fertilizer until it is time to put them back in the ground.
Sometimes it’s a good idea to briefly pot up a plant being moved, even if its new spot is all set. That way you can put the pot where it will be planted and think about it for a few days, maybe move that one a little, nudge this one. No matter how good the plan looks on paper, there is nothing like observing and musing.
The really great thing about digging plants up and potting them, though, is that the job is started and half done.
With that much out of the way, there is at least a fifty-fifty chance it will get finished.