Social Distance X: Moving Plants

This week’s featured plant, Graptoveria ‘Fred Ives’, is a succulent plant growing to 2 feet by 2 feet and producing clumps of rosettes to 8 inches tall by nearly 1 foot wide with broad bronze and pink leaves. This is a 1946 hybrid cross between Graptopetalum and Echeveria, both of which are natives of Mexico. The cultivar name honors one of the founders of England’s National Cactus & Succulent Society. It’s a beautiful and durable summer-growing plant that is a mainstay for succulent garden beds.

While social distancing, gardening keeps emotions positive, and viruses negative. With these goals in mind, we continue our exploration of appropriate gardening activities.

1. Care for Your Garden

We have advocated “gardening by walking  around” as a productive gardening activity while practicing social distancing. Today, we consider the value of “gardening by moving plants around” as another productive activity.

There are numerous reasons for moving plants within the garden. Providing more favorable growing conditions for the plant could be important. A plant might need more sun or more shade, or better drainage, or higher quality soil. Plants might have been planted in the wrong place, or nearby plants might have grown to block sunlight or crowd the plant in question. When a plant appears to be struggling to grow, consider moving it to more hospitable site.

Another reason for moving a plant is to keep it from crowding other plants or encroaching on a walkway. Too often, gardeners install a small new plant without considering its mature size.

Finally, moving a plant might refine the landscape design. A plant might be moved to relate better to other plants in terms of height, foliage form, blossom color, or overall size. A garden vignette might “come the life” after moving a plant from a background location to a starring role.

An old gardening aphorism states, “Plant after May, you better pray.” As with many generalities about gardening, this advice needs examination.

It really doesn’t apply to installing new plants, when done correctly. When a plant is moved from a nursery container to the garden, it benefits from gaining root room and (presumably) an appropriate growing environment.

Moving an existing plant in the summer, however, could challenge the plant’s health because transplanting an established plant unavoidably disturbs its root structure. The usual recommendation is to transplant during the early spring or late fall, rather than during the heat of the summer.

Still, if you have been gardening by walking around and seeing a plant that really must be moved, following good practices that could result in a successful move. The primary goal for most plants is to minimize loss of moisture. This is less of a problem when moving succulent plants, which store moisture quite effectively.

Gardeners in the Monterey Bay area’s temperate climate have a clear advantage over gardeners in California’s central valley, where summer heat makes transplanting problematic. Here are good practices.

  1. Schedule the move for the evening or a cool, overcast day.
  2. Water the plant thoroughly the day before the scheduled transplanting.
  3. Dig the hole for the plant‘s new location and fill the hole with water before proceeding to lift the plant.
  4. Water the subject plant again, to keep the roots intact.
  5. Lift the plant and install it promptly in its new location. Use a tarp to move a larger plant.
  6. Fill the hole halfway with water and let it settle, then fill the hole with soil and tamp it lightly around the transplant. 
  7. For the next several days, shield the plant from direct sunlight and water regularly. 

2. Advance Your Gardening Knowledge

Gardeners have ready access through the Internet for advice and demonstrations, when they are necessary or helpful. We can all learn from a quick search through Google or YouTube before tackling a significant gardening task. Phrase your inquiry with natural language and the Internet will interpret your interest. If you don’t get the results you expected, try restating your inquiry.

3. Enrich Your Gardening Days

Here’s this week suggestion for an entertaining garden-related online resource.

Laura Eubanks’ website offers photos of her designs and installations of succulent gardens in southern California. The homepage also includes a link to her many “Succulent Tip of the Day” video recordings on YouTube. She gardens with confidence and enthusiasm, and thus encourages bold gardening.

Enjoy your garden.

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