Early spring is time to transplant deciduous shrubs

  • Article by: NANCY ROSE , Contributing Writer
  • Updated: April 12, 2000 - 11:00 PM

QLast year I planted two shrub lilacs from containers. I planted them too close to the garage. When should I move them, and are there any precautions I should take?

ADo it now. Early spring, when plants are still dormant, is the best time to dig and transplant deciduous shrubs such as lilacs. Spring is early this year, so plants are breaking dormancy earlier, too. That means it's better to do your transplanting early.

Since you planted these lilacs last year, and they were container-grown, it should be easy to move the plants. The roots probably did not expand too far into the surrounding soil, so if you dig out several inches beyond the edge of the original container-sized root ball, you shouldn't lose too many roots.

Try to dig when the soil is moist enough to hold together but not so wet that you risk damaging the soil structure by digging. A quick way to gauge soil moisture is to dig a shovelful of soil, then scoop up a small handful of the soil and gently compress it in the palm of your hand. If the soil won't compress, it's too dry. If it holds together, give the soil a sharp flick of the finger with your other hand. If the soil breaks apart readily, the level of soil moisture is just right. If it stays gummed together, the soil is too wet and should not be worked. Of course, the results of this field test may vary if you have very sandy soil or very heavy clay.

Before you dig up the plants, prepare new planting holes. Dig only as deep as the current root ball's depth. Planting too deep can cause problems and may even kill the plant. Dig out, or at least loosen up, the soil in a wide circle, preferably at least three times the width of the root ball. Most roots grow far more horizontally than vertically, so by loosening the soil in a wide swath, you encourage rapid root growth outward from the existing root ball.

Dig up the lilac plants, keeping the root balls as intact as possible. If you can, roll the root balls up onto a tarp that you can then drag over to the new planting hole. Set the plants into the new holes, making sure they are planted no deeper than they were. Fill in around the root ball and water thoroughly. Water the plants on a regular basis during the growing season. One deep watering each week is better than frequent sprinkles. Spreading an organic mulch, such as wood chips, pine needles or shredded leaves, several inches deep in a large circle around the plant will help maintain soil moisture and encourage good root growth.

QI inherited my grandmother's sauerkraut crock and would like to try making sauerkraut next summer. What kind of cabbage I should grow for this?

ASauerkraut can be made from any variety of green cabbage. You will find many varieties listed in seed catalogs and you can also readily buy cabbage seedlings from garden centers in the spring. In theory you could use red cabbage also, but I think the fermenting process would transform the beautiful purple-red color in the fresh cabbage to a muddy brown. Chinese or napa cabbage will also work well. The spicy fermented Korean condiment known as kimchi (pickled cabbage) is made with Chinese cabbage along with onions, radishes, ginger and hot peppers. It is salted and fermented in a similar manner to sauerkraut.

All cabbages grow best in cool weather, so plants should be set into the garden early in the season. Provide them with even moisture for uniform growth and production of a firm head. The main pest problem for cabbages is the cabbage looper. This pesky green caterpillar is the larvae of small white cabbage butterflies, which you may see flitting about in the garden, laying eggs on cabbage family plants such as cabbage, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts. An excellent organic solution to these pests is to spray the plants regularly with Bacillus thuringiensis, known as Bt or by the trade names Dipel or Thuricide.

-- Nancy Rose is a research horticulturist at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. She spends her spare time gardening, inside or outside, depending on the weather. Please address gardening questions to her at the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, P.O. Box 39, Chanhassen MN 55317. She will answer questions in this column only.

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