Sooner or later, there comes a time in every gardener's life when we must leave one garden behind and start anew somewhere else. And since we form sentimental attachments to our plants, we rarely relocate without bringing a single plant along, no matter how brutal the transition to the new place may be. In fact, many will tack on extra time and expense to a move in order to see plants safely to a new home, while others schedule moves during the off season, when plants have the best chance of survival.
Moving a regular garden is hard work, but moving an edible garden is even harder still. Just how difficult depends on several factors, including the time of year and the type of plant. As you can imagine, winter is a write-off in frozen parts of the country because the ground is solid. Unless you're shifting pots, you'll need a backhoe, an industrial-size heater and a team trained in Arctic extractions to do the job. Your best bet in such cases is to bide your time and make arrangements to come back later.
The best time to dig up perennial plants is in early spring and fall, when temperatures are moderate and the soil is moist. Remove fruiting bushes and hardy herbs while they are still in their dormant, inactive phase or as they are winding down before winter. Fruit trees stand a decent chance once their leaves have dropped or just before their leaf buds open in the spring. Dill, tomatoes, beans and other annuals either haven't been planted out yet or begin growing in the spring; by fall, they have been harvested. Collect seed from self-seeding annuals such as cilantro, chamomile, borage, bronze fennel and calendula to scatter on the new bed - unless, of course, you are glad to be rid of that dill menace once and for all.
Summer, on the other hand, is the worst season of all to move plants because most are slap-dab in the middle of making flowers, fruit and seed in addition to suffering high heat and drought. Being established in the soil helps plants ride out the stresses of the season. Disturbing their roots and forcing them to adapt to a new location could spell their demise.
Make the best of a bad situation by digging a wide berth around the root mass to prevent damage to the delicate fine root hairs that feed water to the plant. In lieu of suitably sized containers, wrap large plants in plastic garbage bags or sheets of wet burlap. Keep the soil moist at all times, but not soggy (make holes for drainage). Trim back the leaves of perennial plants by about a third, which may seem counterproductive, but actually focuses the plant on growing new roots and helps it adapt to differing growing conditions.
Try to replant as soon as you can and, if at all possible, choose an overcast day when the sun is less punishing. Try this trick if the soil is dry: Stand the pot or rootball in a bucket of water for a minute or two before planting. While the plant is hydrating, dig a hole and fill it with water. Let the water soak in, then fill it a second time. Add a generous handful of compost before putting the plant in. Water in well with a diluted liquid feed that is high in potassium, such as sea kelp or comfrey tea. A little bit of potassium promotes resiliency without pushing the plant into a burst of new growth before it's ready.
The bottom line is that your plants will experience some shock. But if you put a few of these measures into practice, you can probably keep your annuals alive long enough to produce a small harvest and restore your perennials back to health quickly.
Gayla Trail's new book is Grow Great Grub: Organic Food From Small Spaces. For more gardening tips, visit www.yougrowgirl.com.