There’s no time like the present, especially when it comes to spring gardening. Many garden chores are time sensitive, especially those involving plants.
Planting, transplanting, dividing and pruning plants at the appropriate time of year not only makes those jobs easier; it can also determine the difference between success and failure.
Such is the case with transplanting perennials. The cool temperatures of early spring, combined with ample moisture in the ground and increased daylight, provide optimal growing conditions for garden perennials. These same conditions can also help reduce transplanting stress.
Now that the ground has thawed (after this last winter I wondered if that would ever happen), many herbaceous perennial plants are showing signs of new growth at their crowns. Herbaceous perennials are those that die back to the ground every fall, and the crown in most cases is where the plant’s roots and the surface of the soil meet.
Once perennial plants exhibit signs of growth from the crown, it is generally OK to transplant them. In fact, for many perennials the sooner you transplant them after they show signs of life, the better.
Digging up a plant inevitably severs roots, which can stress a plant. Roots not only anchor a plant in place but they also transport water and nutrients to leaves and stems above ground. When conditions are favorable, most plants quickly grow new roots to replace those that are damaged.
Early in the season perennial plants have yet to produce abundant amounts of growth. They therefore have fewer leaves from which to lose moisture and less demand for water from their roots.
Many perennials, if transplanted early enough in the season, will be no worse for the wear after being moved. They will flower in their new homes without skipping a beat. Transplanting too late in the season, however, can cause plants to abort their flowering cycles in response to the stress of not having enough roots to support new growth.
Planting, as with transplanting, tends to be less stressful for most cold hardy plants when done early in the season, rather than later.
Trees, shrubs and perennials that are in containers or have their roots wrapped in burlap have the same challenges that a transplanted perennial has; they need to send out new roots into the ground to support new growth above ground.
Generally speaking, the larger the plant the slower the root system grows. Keep this in mind for newly planted trees and shrubs, especially during the first season they are planted. Your new tree may not require extra watering during the spring when regular rainfall occurs, but it will benefit greatly from regular watering in July and August when it is hot and dry.
Planting in early spring is ideal for almost any plant. Cool, moist earth is ideal for forming new roots. Planting as early as the ground can be worked, provided the soil is not waterlogged, often yields best results especially with trees.
Planting can certainly be successful later in the season, but keep in mind that trees, shrubs and perennials alike need moisture around their root zones in order to grow new roots. Increased temperatures during the summer months also cause plants to lose moisture through their leaves at a rapid rate, often before they have grown root systems large enough to supply the extra demand.
If you’re planning to plant new trees or shrubs, relocate garden perennials to new locations or plant new ones, don’t waste the ideal conditions of spring. Your best chances for success are while the cool weather lasts.