Should you even try to relocate a mature shrub?
Yes, but only if you follow these instructions.
I have some wonderful news to share with you this morning — The Weekly Dirt newsletter has been named a winner in the PCLI Society of Professional Journalists 2021 Media Awards in the ‘Best Use of Newsletters’ category!
The 2021 awards considered all content published in 2020 so after having just launched in November, The Weekly Dirt won after publishing only nine issues. I am beyond honored and grateful for the recognition — and for all of you, because if you weren’t here, I wouldn’t be either.
In addition, one of my Newsday cover stories, Rooted in Faith, won first place in the PCLI Lifestyle Features category — give it a read!
So thank you for reading, for writing — and for keeping gardening relevant. Tending the earth and interacting with nature is a job that can lead to sore muscles, dirty fingernails and sunburned necks, but it pays in blooms and tomatoes, and it doesn’t get any better than that. So please help spread the word and share this newsletter with your gardening friends via email or social media:
I just returned from a lovely week in Maine, where my family and I hiked Acadia National Park, ate lobster in Bar Harbor and took a beautiful sunset sail on Frenchman Bay aboard one of the last original working Maine lobster sloops.
Naturally, I was attuned to the native flora and took more photos of plants than of the typical tourist sites. I was particularly stricken by the fields of lupines growing wild on the side of the road (photo above.) They were absolutely stunning, and at first, I (incorrectly!) assumed they were a native variety.
Unfortunately, those wild lupines are Lupinus polyphyllis, also known as big-leaf lupines, and they are dreadfully invasive in Maine and east of the Rockies. They are native to the western US, where they also are invasive, so it’s best to avoid them regardless of where you live.
Sundial lupine (Lupinus perennis) are native to the eastern U.S. but are nearly extinct now. The kind you find in garden centers are likely Russell hybrids, which also can be invasive because they are descendants of Lupinus polyphyllis.
If you would like to plant lupines, seek out the Sundial variety. They’ll do well for you, they won’t encroach on the environment and they are a food source for butterflies. Plus, you’ll be contributing to the survival of an endangered species.
Here are some more plants I encountered on my trip…
📬 Ask Jessica
DEAR JESSICA: I am in the process of having a fence installed next week and will have to relocate four rhododendron bushes.
They are approximately 18 years old and don't get very much sun. I asked a landscaper his opinion about whether to relocate them, and he said he wouldn't recommend saving them.
I am not sure my wife and I want to get rid of them, but he's asking for $250 to relocate them to another spot on our property. North, south, west or east facing? We still have to select a site if they are worth preserving. — Nick, Rocky Point, NY
DEAR NICK: I can’t advise you on whether $1,000 to transplant four rhododendrons is worth it to you; only you and your wife can decide that. But if the plants are unhealthy, infested or otherwise struggling, that would lower the odds of a successful move.
As long as the plants are healthy, however, rhododendrons typically handle relocation well. Spring is the best time to move them, just be sure they are transplanted by someone who knows what they're doing.
Before starting, prepare the new planting holes; roots shouldn't be exposed for any length of time — not even as long as it takes to dig a new hole. So have their new homes prepared before removing them from their original spots. The new holes should be dug about 12 inches deep and 5 feet wide.
Rhododendrons, as you know, require some shade. Be sure to consider winter, when surrounding trees will have lost their leaves; they don’t like too much sun at any time of year. The north side is best.
Watch the weather. Transplanting should be done on a cloudy day that's not too hot. Sunlight and heat will stress your plants, and stressed plants don’t settle in easily.
Water the plant thoroughly a day before digging it up. This will provide a fortifying drink for your plants, as well as make their removal easier.
Branches and stems should be gently tied (like a Christmas tree) before moving to avoid breakage, which can destroy the look of your plants more easily than you might think.
Mature rhododendrons like yours should be dug up in a 5-foot-wide and 6-inch deep circle, aiming to get as much of the root system as possible.
Set the rhododendrons into the new holes (make sure they’re facing the right way!) and sprinkle some mycorrhizae fungi over the roots according to package directions. That will promote strong, healthy root growth and facilitate establishment.
After digging your holes, divide the removed soil in two halves; save one half to fill in holes elsewhere in the garden, and add an equal amount of compost to the remaining half (so you have a 50/50 mix of garden soil and compost to use as backfill), then bury the roots, periodically firming the soil lightly to eliminate air pockets.
Water the plants immediately and water regularly during the entire first growing season.
Rhododendrons are long-lived plants. With proper growing conditions, they can last more than a hundred years.
👏 Sunday shoutout
Lita Au of Great Neck, NY, defies her zone 7 horticultural zone by keeping her canna lilies outdoors year-round. “I planted them next to the house,” she said of the typically Zone 10-hardy plants, adding that in autumn, “I trim them to about 6 inches from the ground and use the cuttings to cover the areas where the bulbs are. In the Spring, after the danger of the frost is over, I remove the leaves and stems and keep them in bags until they become mulch for next year.”
That’s remarkable, Lita, as conventional gardening wisdom says canna lilies (the large-leaved plants at the back of the border in the above photo) shouldn’t be able to survive winter in New York. But that’s why I always say, “plants don't read books.” Sometimes, if you have the right conditions, as you do (a protected spot up against the house, sufficient winter mulch and the right sunlight exposure), you can get away with pushing the envelope.
💡 If you do one thing this week…
Harvest lettuce before it bolts and turns bitter!
📧 Send me your feedback!
I welcome your comments and suggestions, so please send them along — as well as any topics you’d like to see covered and questions you’d like answered in the Ask Jessica section.