From the ground up: Done right, transplant any time

Around this time of year, gardeners will notice some are beds overrun while others are sparse

Around this time of year, gardeners will notice some are beds overrun while others are sparse. Here Linn County Master Gardener Jackie MacLaren describes how to successfully spread the abundance around.

As a Master Gardener, one of the most frequent questions Iím asked is: ďWhen is the best time to transplant my (fill in the blank)?

The answer: The best time to transplant is when you have a shovel in your hand and time in your day.

Transplanting means moving a rooted plant from one place to another. Among the reasons to transplant are: to control size, retain vigor, create visual appeal or increase plant numbers.

Successfully transplanting perennials is a combination of timing and technique. Generally speaking, spring-blooming perennials are best transplanted in fall and summer or fall blooming selections in spring. However, when you canít control the timing, you can make up for it with superior technique.

First, give the plant youíre moving a good long drink of water so itís hydrated for the trip. To preserve moisture, dig early in the morning or in the evening, avoiding the heat of the day.

Start digging at the plantís drip line ó the area furthest from the plant center ó where moisture would drip off the leaves after a shower. Dig all the way around, and then gently lever the plant out of the ground with your shovel or digging fork.

If the plant youíre moving is small, you can transplant it whole. But if itís sizable, you may want to divide it, and transplant only the healthiest divisions. Remember, perennials generally double in size every year, and you donít want to have to repeat the process again next year. Division can be accomplished by cutting the root ball into pieces using a shovel, trowel, old kitchen knife, or even a saw if necessary. As always, be careful when using sharp instruments.

Once youíve sized up your transplants, it is time to prepare the new location. Dig a hole that will accommodate your plant at the same depth as its current location and wide enough to allow the roots to spread out completely. Donít skimp on the width of the planting hole. If you have to curl the roots around, or turn them up in the air to fit the space, the hole is too small.† Take time to enlarge it.

If the soil in the new location is substandard ó filled with rock, tree roots or clay, add compost, peat moss or other organic matter to enrich the growing environment. The soil should be nice and ďfluffyĒ and feel good to the touch when you dig your hands into it.

Position your transplant in the center of the planting hole, roots evenly spread out, and backfill with the soil youíve prepared. Tamp the soil gently as you fill so it makes good contact with all the roots, and water well to help eliminate any air pockets.

Continue to keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy for the next couple of weeks. If leaves or stems were damaged in the moving process, tie them up or cut them back to keep things orderly. When youíre confident things are off to a good start, add a layer of mulch to help retain moisture and retard weeds Happy transplanting.


  • Heirloom Tomato Tasting Party, 2 p.m. Sunday, Plum Grove Historic Farm, 1030 Carroll St., Iowa City. Sample the 15 tomato varieties grown by Johnson County Master Gardeners. There also will be a tomato seed saving demonstration. No registration required. Contact: Betty Kelly at (319) 351.4903 or
  • †Back to School Weekend, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Wilsonís Orchard, 2924 Orchard Lane NE, Iowa City. Balloon artist, an apple quiz, apple beanbag toss and learn all about dinosaurs from Jack Neuzilís wooden models. Pick apples or get pre-picked apples, snack on fresh turnovers and apple cider donuts and take a walk or free tractor ride around the orchard. Contact:
  • Crop Cover Conference, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Agricultural Learning Center, 3200 Lucas St, Muscatine. Learn all about cover crops from local farmers. Receive information on type of seed, seed mixes, planting, winter kill, grazing, haying, fertilizer credits, spraying, soil health, cost and cost share. Ask questions and get answers from those who know. Lunch will be provided. Registration: (563) 263-7944.
  • Harvest Fest, Friday through Sept. 1, Cedar Ridge Vineyards and Distillery, 1441 Marak Rd. NW, Swisher. A weekend full of live music, harvest themed menu and a grape stomp. Contact:
  • NewBo City Market Learning Garden Talk, 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday, NewBo City Market, 1100 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids. Join Linn County Master Gardeners to taste the bounty of the learning garden. All plants were grown from seeds donated from heirloom collection at Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah. Contact: Victoria Wims at (319) 377-9839, ext. 323.

Questions on gardening, land use or local foods? Contact Michelle Kenyon Brown, community ag programs manager at Linn County Extension,

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