Now that the new year is upon us, it is time to think about activities to prepare and improve our landscapes for the upcoming growing season. Woody shrubs and trees are often planted in the fall and winter in the south. If you need to plant or move current shrubs and small trees, now is a great time to get these tasks completed.
If recently planted shrubs or trees really were not located well in the landscape, or placed in the wrong sun or shade conditions, or in our zeal for great landscapes we overplanted; do some transplanting.
After a few years you now realize that foundation plantings, borders or beds have grown together and require extensive pruning each year to maintain distinct plants because not enough space was allowed between plants. This frequently occurs where small shrubs were used in plantings. Plant spacing was reduced to get that “quick fill” of the planted area rather than wait for the new plants to grow to fit the space.
The 2016 growing conditions were brutal for most of us in the Lakelands. A season with high heat and low rainfall was also tough on many woody plants. Shade loving shrubs such as azaleas or camellias may have suffered where planted too closely, or in areas of morning shade with high afternoon sun exposure. Plants can be moved to new areas with better conditions or dug and given away.
Small trees such as dogwood, redbud, or seedling Japanese maple often come up from seed deposited by wind, birds or by other means into landscape beds or borders. Once large enough for you to identify the plant they can be moved if a good root ball can be obtained. Small plants generally transplant easier with less shock than large plants because it is easier to dig a large portion of roots. These “free plants” can be used to expand your current plantings or given to a friend or neighbor.
If you are transplanting or planting new shrubs or trees, a few good tools and good planting methods will help insure success. A sturdy, sharp round pointed shovel is great for digging up plants and preparing the new hole. A small tarp might be useful for larger plants to help carry them to the new spot, or lift them into a wheel barrow for moving.
Some old throw away shirts, sheets of cloth and twine or string can be used to cover the root ball after digging and hold it intact while moving.
Whether transplanting or planting new shrubs always place the plant at its original soil level into the new planting hole. For information, read HGIC Bulletin 1001, Planting Trees Correctly at clemson.edu/extension/hgic/plants/landscape/trees/hgic1001.html.
When digging a live tree or shrub, the root ball size should expand proportionately with the size of the plant. A small seedling tree may be dug with a one-foot diameter root ball while a six-foot shrub or tree may need 2-4 feet root balls removed with the plants. Very large plants are better left to professionals to move, but most small plants can be quickly moved.
Several important points from bulletin 1001: In our clay soils the planting hole need to be much wider than the root ball, but not deeper. Since the plant may settle a few inches set it 1-2 inches higher in the hole. Don’t dump organic matter into the hole, but dig up a large area around the planting hole and mix compost into the soil. Water the plant after planting and use a 2-3 inch mulch around the new plant, but do not pile it on the stem. Plan to check the plant weekly and water as needed.
James Hodges is a Clemson Extension agent in Greenwood County. He can be reached at 864-223-3264.