The Art of Transplanting Flowers and Plants

Flowers have their own language. Through color and appearance, height and beauty, specific types of flowers have the ability to capture our immediate attention. From a daisy to a tall grouping of hollyhocks, a lavender bush to a field of mammoth sunflowers, our hearts brighten just by seeing a vision of flowers during their peak; yet, when one species begins to spread and take over the garden and crowd other flowers, it has the feeling of dominating a contest to determine who is more beautiful! The solution is simple and it only takes a pair of work gloves, a shovel, and a bucket or a wheelbarrow! (Besides transplanting many plants, you may want to give a few away to family, friends, or a neighbor who adores gardening, too; therefore, keep a few gallon sized Ziploc bags on hand.)

The Right Time of Year

The safest time to ease a plant out of the ground goes beyond the spring or fall season. Consider a cloudy day well before the soil begins to warm, and the temperature is still cool. Plants need at least six weeks to become established; therefore, take into consideration when each type of flower blooms. The iris, for instance, should be transplanted during the summer when it is resting. Make sure the plant is showing signs of entering dormancy; brown foliage is one excellent indicator.


The day before transplanting, soak the soil to ensure the plant is well-hydrated. It is also a good idea to decide where you are moving your precious plant. By having the area cleared, and the hole dug in advance (be generous with the size of the hole, the same depth, and mix either bone meal or soil conditioner into the soil to promote growth), the plant will have a greater chance of adapting to its new home. In addition, completing all the tasks in one day can be overwhelming, and exhausting.

Types of Perennials

  • Phlox, bee balm, and leadwort are what are termed “spreading perennials.” While they each have a crown and root system, the process to separate requires the task of using a shovel to enter the group and separate. The system is strong enough to not affect the remaining plants.
  • Some plants “clump” together, such as hostas, chrysanthemums, and day lilies.   Through the crown, these plants expand and grow larger while crowding surrounding plants. The solution is to remove the plant and then divide through the crown. While pulling is an option to separate, it is better to cut to control the size of each section. Each section should have several stems and a healthy root structure. (Remove any diseased or unhealthy looking limbs.) Keep in mind, the larger chunks will bloom much sooner than smaller divisions. Thinning will result in a great crop next year, so consider cutting your overgrown plants back by 85%.
  • Rosemary and candytuft are termed “woody perennials” simply because their stems thrive and grow with each season. (Trees, shrubs and vines also fit in this category.) Similar to the spreading perennials, you can dig up the roots without disturbing the original plant.
  • Dianthus, globe thistle, balloon flowers, and butterfly weeds have one main, deep root and are termed “taproot perennials.” To divide, you must dig down to the root, and provide each division a part of the taproot, along with the growing buds.

Try and avoid transplanting the following plants: bleeding heart, butterfly weed, Christmas rose, false indigo, lavender, lupine, monkshood, Oriental poppy, peony, poppy.

The After Care

A transplant will be similar to out-patient surgery. The plant will be in shock and require plenty of TLC. Generously watering, perhaps every other day throughout the growing season, will aid in strengthening your plant. In addition to adding mulch around the base to contain moisture levels, you can also improve the soil by spreading coffee grounds, banana peels, or crushed egg shells around the plant. Take the “stress signs” seriously. Drooping, browning, or dying leaves can be solved with water; however, if the plant doesn’t improve, your plant may be in trouble. Coming to the rescue will help save your plant. If you find your plant dropping, provide a crutch and help her stand tall. With your special care and attention, you will discover her first bloom to be a sign of strength and appreciation!