How to save money by moving plants

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: November 22nd, 2015 In: Gardening on a budget

The time for moving plants round your garden is between October and March (deciduous). Or in October or March (evergreen).

Have you got a spot in your garden that you want to spend money on?

I’ve been looking for some affordable box or yew balls for either side of the bench for ages – I wanted big ones. And I saved £450 by finding them in my own garden. We’ve also been moving trees and grasses in a low-cost re-design of the main bed.

Check your borders – are some too full?

Firstly, – before you buy new plants – check your overgrown beds to see whether you already have what you need.

Create stunning effects by moving plants round your garden rather than buying new ones

Check your own garden before you open the garden catalogues. A spade and watering can may be more useful than a cheque book.

How I saved £450…

Ten years ago I took two box balls out of pots and planted one on the corner of the terrace, and the other at the other corner.

However, the second corner turned into a bit of a jungle – instead of neat sculptural mounds of box and Osmanthus ‘delavyi’ to offset the frothy lace heads of Hydrangea Arborescens ‘Annabelle’, they all grew into each other.

Money-saving tips for beautiful borders

You can see the dried heads of Hydrangea Arborescens ‘Annabelle’ but the foliage plants behind are just a muddle of green. Time to see if any of them would be better elsewhere in the garden.

We dug up both the Osmanthus ‘delavyi’ earlier this year, one of which has survived in its new place and one of which has died. This was probably because we put it too close to the wall and I forgot to water it enough.

Water recently moved plants more often

If you move plants you have to water them more, because their root growth has been disturbed. Two weeks ago, we decided to dig up the box ball, and its partner at the other end of the terrace. They now have a new lease of life on either side of the bench.

The bit of the bed they came from doesn’t even look empty – with any luck I have created a ‘planting opportunity’ – but in reality the bed was over-crowded and I hadn’t noticed it. Plant growth creeps up on you.

How to create your own topiary

We’ve moved the box ball from a thicket of plants and now it’s proudly framing the bench. If I had bought this size of box ball (70cm), it could have cost around £225, according to my researches on the internet.

Is it worth moving plants?

Ask yourself how much money you’ll save by moving a plant rather than buying new. ‘If you can buy plant for around £10, it probably isn’t worth the bother of moving it and then risking it not growing,’ says Andy McIndoe of online gardening academy My Garden School.

‘Life is too short to move plants like rosemary and lavender around – they may not like it and they’re very cheap to buy new.’

But the plants I was looking for – something fairly sculptural and evergreen for either side of the bench – were always going to be expensive. I’d found 70cm buxus balls on the internet for £225. That would have been £450 for the two.

So moving them was well worth the effort, even if you have to pay someone to do the digging. Andy McIndoe confirms that box and topiary will move very well: ‘You’ve been pruning it into shape all along, so that helps.’

How to move small garden trees

The little tree (Acer Griseum or Paperbark Maple) on the right has been swapped with a stipa gigantea. The tree wasn’t in the right place. The stipa, on the other hand, should look delightful nearer the house…if it’s happy to move.

Which plants can you move?

‘If an evergreen plant is reasonably long-lived, still fairly young and it hasn’t been in one spot for too long, then you can probably move it successfully,’ says Andy McIndoe. ‘That includes Japanese maple, dwarf conifers and evergreen shrubs with a good rootball.’

I asked him if our stipa gigantea would do well after moving. ‘You need to lift and divide a stipa every few years anyway,’ he said.

Find out which plants do or don't like being moved.

This ‘Cheshire Beauty’ rose spent 30 years in one garden and has transferred quite happily to mine. Not all older plants – or roses – will be as obliging, as roses usually prefer not to be moved.

Any perennials that need lifting and dividing will move well. It’s generally considered that roses don’t like being moved, and that plants which are well established don’t either, but recently Posy Gentles dug up a 1970s rose in her front garden and gave it to me, and it’s been absolutely fine.

Perennials - like stipa - can be divided and moved.

This is the stipa in its old spot, taken in 2014. It wasn’t as lush this year – looking back at this photo reminds me that it really was time to dig it up. Stipa is one of the perennials that dies out in the middle and needs splitting every few years anyway. Pic by Peter Garland

 Or swap with friends…

We all hate discarding plants. But plants often out-grow their situation or your taste changes. A few years ago, Posy asked me if I wanted some nepeta. I wasn’t quite sure what I would do with it, but I thought it might be useful somewhere. She dropped it off in the front garden while I was out. I never got round to planting it. So it took root where it was, and looked so great that I’ve now planted nepeta (lifted and divided from elsewhere in the garden) all along the front beds.

Rosa 'Bonica' and Nepeta Six Hills Giant' have both been moved successfully from elsewhere

This nepeta ‘Six Hills Giant’ is growing by the front gate – exactly where Posy dropped it off two years ago. I like it there so much I’ve since added an underplanting of nepeta to all the roses along the front border.

How to move a plant

The RHS have good advice on this. You dig a trench round the established plant and then work your spade under it, cutting any very stubborn roots. Slide the plant out on some hessian sacking and put it straight into a prepared hole. I have to say that I’ve never treated our plants quite as well – they’ve been dug up any old how and not an inch of hessian has ever been seen.

When will moving plants be most successful?

The RHS also say that October to March is a good time for deciduous plants because they’re dormant, while evergreens should be moved in either October or March when the soil is warm enough for them to get established.

I must admit that I’ve usually moved plants when I want to move them, and most have survived. But if a plant is precious, move it at the right time.

Garden tips for saving money by moving plants

Crocosmia seem to move happily in this garden, as do penstemons – both these started off somewhere else originally.

You might as well risk it

When we re-landscaped the garden five years ago, we dug up quite a few plants and kept them in pots while the work was going on. Not all survived – a very pretty standard lollipop variegated holly turned up its toes. However, an elderly philadelphus was absolutely fine after a bit of sulking. Day lilies and iris were fine, too.

Generally, plants want to survive, so you might as well give moving them a go. Gardeners do warn against digging up whole gardens if you’re moving house, though – it’s not very friendly to your buyers. Take cuttings instead.

Money-saving gardening tips

You can move deciduous plants any time between October and March.

Which plants have you moved successfully? Or do you have a ‘moving plants’ disaster to share? Do tell us here or on the Middlesized Garden’s Facebook page. And if you share this using the buttons below, thank you!

11 Comments

  • Moving plants do really cut down the cost for landscaping. It’s also the most practical thing to do for plants that are rare to find. Although the work can be a bit strenuous it would all be all worth it. Especially once you made a terrific job of arranging and designing those plants.

  • Diana Studer says:

    dug up an embattled Oxford and Cambridge from our old garden.
    Today it is lush abd flourishing as it NEVER has been before!

  • Jane says:

    Completely agree that it’s worth the risk to relocate plants. My experience was that the clematis vines were doing so poorly where they were anyway, that if they didn’t survive the move, at least I tried. And often they did survive! Loved the pictures you provided.

    • Thank you so much! I moved a winter-flowering jasmine once – it was on its last legs inside in a pot, and I thought it could hardly be worse off outdoors. It practically took over the neighbourhood.

  • rusty duck says:

    I have to agree, moving plants is usually well worth it. Mine almost have to sign a mobility clause at point of purchase.. they are forever on the move! The trouble is, once you decide something is in the wrong place it will stand out like a sore thumb. It’s often the case that plants sulk for a few months before they start to regrow, but (touch wood) there haven’t been too many failures. And for ‘slide into hessian’ read ‘dump unceremoniously in a wheelbarrow’!

  • Lynn says:

    Love your blog. Beautiful pictures and great tips.

  • jackie gold says:

    Interesting post – thank you. I would be very wary of moving your Stipa at this time of year though – would be much happier moving in the spring!

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