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Plant swapping is an old southern tradition

By Al Cooke, Extension Agent
Posted Wednesday, June 15, 2005

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Swapping plants is an old southern tradition that is not limited to the south. It's just where I happen to have spent most of my life and notably also the home of two authors (Stephen Bender and Felder Rushing) of the book Passalong Plants, which is a riotous 200 pages about plants that lend themselves to easy propagation and sharing as well as some down-home southern philosophy that immigrants could find useful. (Southerners actually have been known to plant Catalpa BECAUSE it attracts insect predators.)

Traditional advice is that perennial plants that bloom in late summer to fall transplant best in spring; and that spring to early summer bloomers transplant best in fall. And trees and shrubs establish best if planted in the fall to winter. All of these suggestions are based on the notion that a lot of us plant things and walk away ignoring the plants needs only to wonder why it died. A big issue is water of course, especially for plants that have had their roots dug up.

Truth is if you're a good gardener and attentive, you can transplant almost anytime. You just have to pay attention. Many gardeners are spending week-ends this month and next visiting Holly Hill Daylily Farm, transplanting daylilies not only at the "wrong" time of year but in full bloom! I've done it; works great. I've also dug up a holly's roots to transplant it in mid-summer, successfully. But you have to pay attention to what you're doing. I put the holly somewhere I had to notice it every day so I wouldn't forget it.

One further warning. Not to be a wet blanket, but... Sharing plants is a good way to share weeds. Weeds that are not obvious can be moved around as tubers and as seeds. You may get more than you see. Some weeds are not easy to get rid of. I had one bed I essentially took out of service for two years so I could treat it twice a year with herbicide so I could get rid of a weed I had inadvertently introduced. It took that long to get rid of it and digging would never get rid of all of it unless we're talking backhoe.

I'll never stand it the way of plant sharing. But go at it with your eyes open.

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