Our old house was once again empty as of June 30. After our tenants moved out, I found I not only needed to touch up the painted walls inside, but a stroll through the back gardens showed that my left-behind plants were seriously suffering from neglect. And realistically, that was not surprising – not everyone loves gardening as much as I do, and even an avid gardener isn’t necessarily going to appreciate my plant choices, or understand all the quirks that come with gardening beneath greedy, thirsty maple trees in thin clay soil and very hard, high pH water. It took me several years of trial-and-error to figure out what worked, and my plant ranks suffered many casualties along the way.
I reluctantly made the decision to move some of the plants while we were between renters and give the beds a fresh coat of mulch for the new tenants. Moving plants is always stressful on them, but conventional wisdom says the best time to transplant is in the spring or fall…either before the plant breaks dormancy or as it is drifting off for a long winter’s nap.
Obviously, July is neither spring nor fall. In fact, it is quite possibly the worst possible time to uproot and move plants around – they need all their strength just to withstand the rigors of high heat and dry conditions that July is notorious for. But it was a “now or never” window of opportunity: No matter what arrangements we made at lease signing, I wouldn’t have felt right expecting new tenants to welcome me and my trusty shovel in September, and at the rate the plants were declining, I wasn’t sure they could hold on that long even if I did. As it turned out, we had it rented just two weeks after it was vacated.
And so, in the middle of the month that is in the middle of summer and in the midst of extreme heat and drought, I spent an overcast but extremely humid Saturday morning digging up dozens of plants: hydrangeas, peonies, hellebores, hostas, heucheras, a prized Brunnera ‘Jack Frost’ and some pulmonarias and even a bag full of variegated Solomon’s seal roots (the plants had gone completely deciduous due to the extreme temperatures and dry spell.)
I tagged and bagged and hauled them all home, set them in the shade and began the process of putting them into new surroundings with as much rich, moist amended soil as I could muster. Since I was digging and moving, I thought I’d bite the bullet and move three randomly planted peonies from this property, and create double borders along eastern fence, with hydrangeas on one side of the gate, and a double-row of peonies along the other. The photo gallery shows the ugly truth about moving plants under these conditions. These were taken yesterday, two weeks after the plants were moved. They will not win any beauty prizes this year, but if I can keep them hydrated and we have a typical fall and winter, I’m hopeful of their chances for survival.
You may see them as lost causes, but when I look at them, I see the potential for them flourishing once again under the watchful eye of the one who hand-chose nearly all of them for her garden, once upon a time.
and see how they are growing and filling in, just a couple months later:
If a fellow gardener or homeowner asked me for advice, I would tell them to do as I say and not as I did, unless they were in similarly dire straits. Even with a lot of TLC, I’m sure these plants are going to take a few years to fully recover from this ill-timed move and I may lose a few of them. But fortunately for us, plants are resilient and forgiving, so take courage and transplant your plants, but preferably in months that have R’s in them.