Round and round the garden

Sunday, 22 March 2015

These creamy-yellow Clivia plants have been moved because the leaves got burnt when exposed to sun

Will I ever stop moving plants round and round in my garden? After 21 years in this garden, it seems unlikely. Every year, I greet autumn with a long list of plants that need to be moved to a different spot. The reasons are manifold. An obvious one is that I have planted something in the wrong spot in the first place, because of not understanding its needs or its true nature. Huge shrubby perennials planted right beside paths; tiny ones planted at the back of borders. Moisture-loving plants put in soil that is too dry, or the reverse - Mediterranean plants put in heavy, damp soil. Robust, wide-growing plants that engulf and smother their timid neighbours. I have made every mistake in the book during my gardening life.

Pelargonium Big Red needs to be moved to a sunnier spot in my garden

I do now try to research about a plant before putting it in, and attempt to understand factors such as its need for sun vs. shade, its optimum soil and moisture requirements, and its ultimate height and spread. Often my errors have been made because I have been in too much of a hurry to get things in the ground so I haven't bothered to do my research. I have realised that finding out as much as I can beforehand pays off in the long run.

This Hemerocallis August Flame did not flower well this year because it is in too much shade

Another reason for needing to move plants is that the microclimate in the garden has changed. I have two areas in my garden for hot-coloured plants in hues of oranges, reds and yellows. One was a shaded area, sheltered by a giant old oak tree. Another was a sunny part of the garden that had originally no trees at all. Recently the oak tree had to be removed because it was dying - all my shade-loving Clivia, bromeliads, ferns and Kohleria there have subsequently been severely scorched by the hot summer sun and are looking terrible. As it has turned out, I have realised the other hot-coloured garden has become shaded due to the rapid growth of some lilly pillies and a tall Tibouchina that I planted a few years ago. Plants here such as daylilies, Canna, Pelargonium and Salvia are languishing - so a big swap is about to happen!

Another motive for moving plants is to do with colour clashes, as I enjoy combining specimens with a view to how the hues of their flowers and/or leaves look together. Sometimes such arrangements don't work out at all well: the plants don't bloom at the same time or the colours just don't look like I hoped they would. I once read a great tip for finding good combinations like this: pick a flower and walk around holding it up to other flowers and leaves to see how it looks. I need to do this more often!

Sunburnt bromeliad foliage in my garden

Moving perennials and small shrubs is relatively easy, and autumn and winter are the best times to carry out the operation - it is too stressful on the plant to do it in the hotter months (which is not to say that I never do it then!). It is wise to keep notes of what needs to be moved where when the inspiration strikes you during the year! The best day to do the deed is on a cool, overcast day, later in the day if possible. Make sure you have watered your plant well in the days leading up to the transplanting operation. Prepare the new hole before you dig up the plant, adding some compost and amalgamating this well into the soil where the hole is being dug. Some people recommend adding water to the hole before you put your plant into it. When digging up the plant, dig a reasonable distance from the rootball and get a good amount of soil with it, keeping it as intact as possible. Place the plant on a piece of hessian or a trap to carry it to its new hole and replant straight away, at the same level as it was in its previous spot. Water it in well with some Seasol added to your water, and mulch the surface around the plant (but not too close to the stem). Don't add fertiliser at this stage.

Opinions vary as to whether you should cut back the foliage or not when transplanting - some people argue that this reduces transpiration loss but others say that such cutting is a further stress on the plant. Spraying the foliage (before you dig up the plant) with a product such as DroughtShield that reduces water loss from leaves can be helpful. It can be a good idea to shelter the plant from the sun if possible for a few days after the operation. On a smaller plant, I sometimes place a large empty pot over the top, removing it at night. Larger plants could be protected with an umbrella or shadecloth, supported with a frame or some plant stakes. Keep the plant well watered until it shows signs of growth - and be vigilant for any attack by pests or diseases that may compromise its survival during the early stages.

Larger shrubs and trees present more of a challenge for transplanting. It can be useful to dig the trench around the plant a few weeks before you actually move it. The actual digging up can be quite a strenuous operation. I try now to really think through where I am going to plant something large so that I am not faced with this ordeal later on down the track!

Our gardens are constantly evolving because of all these changes - but to me that is part of the fun of gardening!