Transplanting Perennials

Fall is not only for planting, it’s for transplanting too. Most perennial plants can be moved successfully from one place to another in the garden, and fall is one of the best times to do it, especially for spring and summer blooming perennials. Early spring, before new growth begins is another good time and better for fall-blooming perennials if you don’t want to sacrifice any fall bloom.

Why would you need to move a perennial? Perhaps it got larger than expected—it can be difficult to visualize the mature size of a plant that you purchased as a cute little quart pot. Or maybe it just doesn’t look quite right with its neighbors or the location you initially chose was not quite to the plant’s liking.

Whatever the reason, moving perennials (and small shrubs) is a pretty easy task. Follow these steps and your plant will be thriving in its new home in no time.

If possible, do this on an overcast day. If the leaves and stems have not completely died back yet, go ahead and cut them back (don't cut back shrubs, but wait for deciduous shrubs to drop their leaves if possible). This reduces water demands on the roots after transplanting.

Transplanting a hosta

Observe where the stems are, and using a sharp shovel begin making cuts around the plant about 6” from the outside stems (For shrubs, dig as far out as the widest branches reach).  Angle the shovel slightly so you are cutting out a slight bowl shape.

Once you’ve gone completely around the plant, use the shovel to lever out the chunk of soil and plant. Small plants may pop out with your first push; larger plants may require that you work around the plant again, gently prying as you go.

If it’s too large to handle easily, carefully transfer the plant to a tarp, empty pot or piece of cardboard to move to the new location. Be careful not to break up the rootball too much.

The hole you dig in the new location should be somewhat wider and the same depth as the rootball you’ve remove. Place the plant in the new location, being sure that the soil level is exactly the same-no deeper or shallower. Backfill the hole, firming the soil slightly.

Water thoroughly, then keep an eye on it for several weeks, watering when the top 2-3” of soil becomes dry.

Many spring-  and summer-blooming perennials can also be divided at the same time as they are transplanted, giving you additional plants to spread around in your garden or give away.  Plus, some perennials lose their vigor if not divided every few years, resulting in decreased bloom and increased disease problems.

Any perennial that grows and spreads as individual plantlets (black-eyed-Susan, hosta, coreopsis, iris, purple coneflower) is easily divided.  Plants that grow from one crown or that have a fleshy taproot (amsonia, Russian sage, poppies, butterfly weed) are more difficult or impossible to divide.

Dividing a hosta

For a simple division, simply cut your rootball in half or quarters, working between the stems.  For finer divisions, carefully shake or wash off enough soil to expose the roots. Gently pull small groups of 3-5 plantlets apart (you may need to use a knife) leaving as much root on as possible. Discard any dead or weak-looking pieces. Plant the divisions back into the ground, or in pots to grow larger or give away.

Worried about doing it right? Daylilies and hostas are great plants to practice with, as they are both very forgiving plants and can be transplanted/divided any time of year with great success. And don’t worry-most healthy plants are quite tough and will survive some experimentation!