Spring Into the Season with a Garden Review
By Suzy Fischer
month of March ushers in the spring season and with it, new
beginnings, especially in the garden. Now is a good time to take
a fresh look at your original plan to see what has been
successful and what has missed the mark.
Begin by evaluating your plantings to determine their
suitability to the garden you want to create. That plant that
looked just the right size in the container when you bought it
last year may have outgrown its space, blocking windows, paths
Note the physical condition of plants and make sure they are
still appropriate to current conditions in the garden. Are
sun-loving plants now struggling under the shade of canopy
trees? Are shade-loving plants suffering from sun exposure after
the loss of a tree in the hurricane? Remember that plants in
stressed conditions are more susceptible to opportunistic
diseases and insects that could wreak havoc on the whole garden.
Taking an assessment
After taking an assessment of your garden's existing plants, it
is time to decide what will stay, what can be moved and what
needs to go straight to the compost pile.
Overgrown shrubs may be too large to restore as hedges, but they
may be perfect candidates to be relocated and reclaimed as small
trees. Removing the lower foliage and some of the upright
branches can create a multi-trunk tree, with an attractive
sculptural branching habit.
If moving things around is in order, be sure you have an
appropriate location to move the plant to in order to give it
the right cultural conditions. If the plant under consideration
is in poor condition, you should consider removal as opposed to
relocation. The plant's poor condition immediately makes it a
bad choice for the stress of transplanting.
Ideally, the dormant season is the best time for transplanting.
Spring is an acceptable time, if it is done early enough that
the plant has time to flush out and establish some new roots
before summer's heat sets in.
To transplant, dig a solid root ball, the bigger the better.
Take care not to crack the root ball during the move. Large root
balls are very heavy so get some help from friends with strong
backs. An old blanket or burlap bag can be useful as a sling.
Do not dig and replant if the soil is too wet. You will compact
the soil during the process and remove the oxygen available to
the surrounding plants. Also be careful if the soil is dry. Root
balls that are too dry are most susceptible to cracking. Water
the day before you dig so that the soil is moist but hasn't made
the root ball so heavy it can't be moved.
Prune about one-third of the plant's foliage to compensate for
the loss of roots. Many gardeners hate to cut anything back, but
it is necessary since the plant has lost much of the root system
that previously supported what you are cutting back. Remember,
reluctance to prune probably got you to the point of needing to
move things around.
Make sure you plant the root ball at its previous level. A lower
level would prevent oxygen from getting to established roots. A
higher level would dry up exposed roots. Water the transplant
and stake, if necessary. Apply a two-inch layer of compost or
shredded hardwood mulch.
Think before you buy
Our temperate climate allows for a nearly year-round growing
season with an extensive plant palette that includes many
fast-growing shrubs and perennials. It may be more
cost-effective to purchase a plant in a small container than
spending hours of your time attempting to move a large, leggy
one. The containerized plant will mature long before the
stressed plant recovers from shock, if it ever does.
Before rushing off impulsively to the nearest garden center to
buy something that catches your eye the moment you walk through
the gate, determine what you need. Is it color, texture,
fragrance or screening? Does the area get sun or shade? You may
need or want plants that attract birds and butterflies.
Lastly, don't forget to consider your overall goal for the
garden. It may need to be re-evaluated as well. Do you still
have time to tend to extensive plantings of seasonal color? You
may consider replacing some areas with perennial color. Now may
be a good time to establish a patch of the garden for edible
plantings you've always wanted to incorporate.
Whatever your decisions may be, formulate a plan so that you
don't find yourself doing the same thing next year.
Suzy Fischer is a registered Landscape Architect and
principal of Fischer Schalles Associates, a landscape
design/build firm. You may contact her at (713) 520-1395. Suzy
is a long time board member of Urban Harvest, Inc., a non-profit
dedicated to promoting healthy communities through educating
children and adults about gardening and its many benefits.
Contact Urban Harvest to learn about gardening classes,
community gardens and orchards, farmers' markets and more at