Recently, as I was digging up four boxwood shrubs, and cutting down a twelve-foot elderberry, I recalled that some gardeners dislike toppling mature plants or discarding healthy ones.
This is not about relocating plants. Certainly, there are situations in which a plant has outgrown its spot, or has failed to thrive because of a lack of sun or moisture or nutrition, or simply doesn’t look right where it is, aesthetically.
In such situations, assuming the plant is not too big to move, go ahead and transplant to a better location within your garden, or gift it to a friend. You and the plant and perhaps your friend will be happier.
We might ask, “When is it a good idea to decommission a plant?”
One justification would be that the plant is both unwanted (for any of several reasons) and too big to move without significant effort or expense.
Another justification arises when an unwanted plant is not too big to move, but no alternative location is available in your garden or in the garden of any friend.
The option that remains is to lift the plant with care and bring it to a garden exchange. These events are constructive and popular when someone steps up to the task of organization.
One should link to the local gardening network to learn when and where a garden exchange will happen. Join a club!
An important mindset when removing a plant is to avoid any sense of loss, and instead to recognize the opportunity to bring in a new and more interesting plant. Therefore, one should have (1) a replacement plant already in mind, (2) the confidence and knowledge to grow the replacement plant, and (3) the patience to let the plant to reach full maturity.
The four boxwoods (Buxus sempervirens) I dug up had been intended to frame a rose bed, but these common plants had grown large enough to block the view of the roses. I will replace them with miniature roses, to be selected.
The elderberry was an unknown species, a gift that I planted before I realized how big it would get, and before I decided to devote that section of the garden to California native plants. A Pacific Red Elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) might have stayed, but this shrub’s berries were not red, but black.
I will replace this shrub with a Silverleaf Manzanita (Arctostaphylus silvicola), a beautiful very gray, and very endangered shrub that is endemic to the nearby Zayante Sandhills. It is also called the Santa Cruz Manzanita. I found a specimen at the Yerba Buena Nursery in Half Moon Bay. It’s in a one-gallon nursery pot, so it will need time to reach its mature height of eight feet.
Uprooting plants can release space for new botanical treasures.
Here’s a picture of the Silverleaf Manzanita, from the website of Las Pilitas Nurseries, a treasure trove of information on California native plants, as well as a great source of those plants. There are two locations: Santa Margarita (about 18 miles north of San Luis Obispo) and Escondido.