My mother-in-law is a furniture re-arranger. It is not unusual to come in and find the living room in a completely new layout, just because. It never occurs to me to do this in my home. Once my furniture has found its home it stays put, but I’m constantly rearranging in the garden. My blue-eyed grass didn’t thrive in my perennial bed, but loved the fern bed so I relocate all of them there, or I forgot that natives are taller than their commercial cultivars so I need to move the I-thought-it-was-going-to-be-short plant from the front of the bed to the I’m-always-in-the-back-in-group-photos spot. I realized, with a slightly startled head tilt from a client that I suggested moving some plants too, just like I never rearrange my house, many people never move a plant that is already in the ground. But you can, and there are lots of good reasons why you should.

Sometimes plants fail to flourish where we plant them. Even when we think we are meeting a plant’s sunlight and water preferences, sometimes we know they are not living up to their potential. If we are doing everything we can for them, providing adequate soil fertility and watering when needed, the problem may be the site. Maybe it gets too much harsh afternoon sun, or not quite enough sun, or maybe the soil stays a little too wet. Transplant it somewhere else.

Sometimes plants don’t create the effect we anticipated. I relish planning my garden, but I’m not a professional designer. There are plants I’ve juxtaposed because I thought they would bloom at the same time and they didn’t. The gaura I adore in the spring looks rangy the rest of the growing season and I’ve finally decided it has to go. Our yards and gardens represent a certain aesthetic, or color palette, or reflect our personality. If there is a plant that isn’t contributing to that, it is ok to move it or gift it to a new neighbor.

Sometimes plants spread. Many perennials tend to clump, which fills out the space and makes the garden look mature. But, they can overwhelm less aggressive plants nearby and the edges of the clump may need to be reined in. After several years perennials like iris and daylilies benefit from dividing. The new plants can fill out other areas of a garden bed. On a similar note, I appreciate plants that re-sow. Lenten Roses are prolific, but the seedlings sprout right under the parent plant. I grow them out until they are large enough to go into the garden, and find a spot where I want it to grow rather than where it grew by chance.

Moving plants is easy. Late fall is the best time to do this, but it can be done throughout spring. We probably have another couple of weeks before the heat will be too stressful for the plant to recover easily (the heat may be trending to unpleasant for the gardener by then as well). Use a shovel and move out from the edge of the plant before inserting it as deep as possible. For large clumps, move in a circle with the shovel around the plant, and once it is loose you can work through the roots holding it in place underneath.  The more roots you get the better it will re-establish. When you replant, make sure to water deeply, and water more frequently while it settles it, just like you would for anything newly planted.

Perennial plants – think daisies, coneflower, irises – are simple to rearrange in the garden. However, they will always look best two-three years after they are planted, so don’t move every plant every year. Not every plant responds that well to change though. Wait for fall to move perennials that are already budding or blooming; the window for moving those has already closed this year. Also, only small trees and shrubs are ideal, and moving them in late fall to late winter is more crucial to their survival than it is for herbaceous perennials. I wouldn’t suggest moving annuals, just plant them elsewhere next year.

One of my favorite garden quotes is “A garden is never so good as it will be next year.”. Spending a bit of time in early spring tweaking and re-arranging flower gardens is a great way to get ahead of that next year. And a great excuse to spend a Saturday spring afternoon, or several, piddling in the garden.

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