JULIE FINUCANE

Fall has brought cooler temperatures and more frequent rains; ideal conditions for planting hardy bulbs, trees, shrubs and perennials.

With cool nights, shortening days and the first frosts, plants begin to shut down their food producing operations and go dormant for the winter. As the green chlorophyll disappears, we see the beauty of the remaining colors; shades of gold, scarlet, crimson, orange and yellow that herald the transition from summer’s growth into winter slumber. Flowering all but stops and showy seed heads begin to take their place.

Don’t be fooled, however, by the seeming sleep of those perennials and shrubs. Root systems continue to grow and establish throughout the fall and early winter, until the ground freezes. And some years an early, heavy snow cover will insulate the ground, delaying that freeze or preventing it altogether.

Rainfall increases in autumn, further optimizing conditions for new plantings — and making things easier on the gardener too, with mother nature taking care of those late additions to the landscape. Snowmelt followed by spring rains typically finishes the job, taking these plants through their establishment period, so they will rarely need supplemental water unless we have a severely dry spell the following growing season.

New perennials, shrubs and trees are not always available in good supply at the nursery or garden center, but there are often bargains to be had. Spring-flowering bulbs, on the other hand are best planted now and you’ll find the best assortment of the year.

Have you been considering moving trees or shrubs to another area of the landscape? Perhaps something has overgrown its first planting site. Or a new project, a deck, patio or garden renovation requires that the plant be moved or removed to complete the plan.

Plants should be moved with as much of their root system as possible, ideally with a root ball as wide as the outermost branches (drip line) of a tree or shrub, and as deep as you can get it. This is easily accomplished when a plant is small, requiring just a basketball-sized root ball to lift and transfer to its new home. For large plants, your most reliable option is to call a tree service and have the work done by professionals. They will also be able to tell you whether a plant is too large to be moved successfully. This is the only way to go with valuable plants that you want to minimize the risk of losing.

For the do-it-yourself project, root pruning is a low impact way to prepare shrubs and trees for successful relocation in spring. The technique is simple. Make deep cuts with your shovel (the longer bladed, the better) in a ring around the trunk or perimeter of the plant, to create a broadly V-shaped rood ball. Keep in mind the largest size you’ll be able to handle. Lift up a little and undercut to sever any taproots, but don’t remove any soil, and don’t raise the plant up to expose the roots to air. Just water the disturbed area gently and walk away.

From now until the ground freezes, the plant will do its best to grow a dense new root system with the roots you’ve left attached.

In early spring, come back to your plant and cut the roots as before, but about two to three inches wider to preserve the new, consolidated system. Gently lift the root ball and rest it on a sturdy tarp for transfer to its new home.

In this case, procrastinating is a wise move. Put off transplanting until spring to give those trees and shrubs a chance to prepare for the handling.

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