Fall transplanting

“Now hold on a minute,” you may be saying to yourself. “You talked about fall planting last week. What’s so special about transplanting that it gets its own post?”

The answer is a very subtle, but extremely important one:  planning.

It seems that every fall I have a list of plants that need to be moved for some reason.  They’ve outgrown their space, they’re languishing and underperforming, the dog likes to lay on it, the color clashes with other plants, you have a better (new) plant for that location, etc.  That’s one of the great things about a garden — you can change it at any time, for any reason.  Once you plant something you’re not stuck with your decision.

It’s that need to notice earlier in the growing season (and remember later) that makes planning such a critical part of the process.

I’ve found that marking plants that need to be moved with a landscape flag like the one to the right works really well for me.  I use four colors:

  • Pink:  This plant needs to be transplanted
  • Blue: This plant needs special attention, be it extra water or just monitoring
  • Orange:  This plant was just planted and needs to be added to my plant database and have a label made
  • Lime:  This plant has not been planted yet — I stick the flag in the pot and put the pot out in the garden

I’ll explain the flags more in another post, but this should be enough for you to get the idea.  If I see a plant that needs to be moved, any time in the season, I literally flag it.  Then, when the temperatures are right, I look for the flags in the garden.  Sometimes the plant gets moved early, and sometimes it waits until fall.

Generally speaking, perennials require less work to transplant than woody plants.  When I know I’ll need to move a small tree or shrub, I always take a spade and root prune around the base of the plant.  Stick your shovel in where you think you’ll be digging, push it in all the way, and then remove it.  Keep doing this until you’ve gone around the plant completely.  Since the plant is staying in the ground it can recover much more easily than if I dug it up right away, and this gives the plant a chance to grow a network of new roots that will be able to support it come fall.

Perennials are much easier to transplant because their root systems are more contained, so they rarely need to be root-pruned except for suckering plants that form colonies.

From here on out you can follow the same directions as those for planting new plants.  Enjoy!

My fall to-do list in the garden

Nothing beats fall camping.

Fall. I think it’s my favorite season — I love the crisp, chill air at night, the fall harvest, and I especially love the vibrant patchwork of leaves that change from green to yellow to orange to red. There’s nothing better than an October camping trip, sitting around a crackling fire under the stars and rustling leaves with a hint of frost nipping at your nose.

But as a gardener, fall terrifies me. It seems to sneak up so quickly, and with it comes a list of failed summer tasks. Suddenly I’m in a race against the clock, triaging projects or admitting defeat and moving them to next year’s list. But fall also comes with its own new set of projects, and a lot of those can’t be ignored. I’ve found the best thing to do is make a checklist/timeline and work my way through.  Here’s my list for USDA hardiness zone 5b:


Technically, fall doesn’t really start until September 22nd (the equinox), but things start changing quickly before that. After June 22nd the days get shorter, and the amount of daylight that’s being lost becomes accelerates as the date gets closer to September 22nd. This is why I start my planning on September 1st.

  • Order/buy bulbs: If you have want to plant fall bulbs, get them ASAP. Stores will run out and you want time to plan your plantings.
  • Take cuttings: Herbs like basil and mint respond well as cuttings. Cut a small piece off, remove the lower leaves, and plant it in water. Once the roots are 2″ long you can pot it up as a houseplant and use fresh herbs throughout the winter.
  • Plant cool-weather vegetables in mid-September, like arugula, radishes, and bok choy.
  • Know the frost dates for your area. You can check this on our earlier blog post.
  • Fix any broken irrigation lines so they can be flushed later.
  • Take photographs of all container plantings.  You can look at them over the winter and figure out which ones worked and which ones didn’t (and buy the ones that worked again next year).
  • Plant any perennials or shrubs that haven’t made it into the ground yet this season.
  • Transplant any perennials or shrubs that need to be moved.
  • Re-seed any areas of your lawn that need it.

October (pre-frost)

  • Harvest any vegetables.  If you have green tomatoes, place them in a paper bag with an apple to ripen them.  Can, freeze, or dehydrate them.
  • Harvest any other herbs.  You can freeze them or dehydrate them.
  • Bring in any container temperennials that you want to overwinter (Mandevilla, Begonia).
  • Remove your tomato, pepper, and tomatillo plants right before frost.  They will get slimy and difficult to remove otherwise.
  • Harvest your cool weather vegetables that were planted in September.
  • Plant your spring bulbs.

October (post-frost)

Frost-kissed oak leaves shine in the morning.

  • Collect any seeds from garden plants or herbs.
  • Rake your leaves and compost them.
  • Harvest any kale, cabbage, or swiss chard (the flavor is better after frost).
  • Bring in any container plants that need to be overwintered (Ficus ‘Chicago Hardy’, grapes, sage, bay laurel) and store in an unheated garage.
  • Collect bulbs from elephant ears, dahlias, cannas, and caladiums and overwinter in a cool, dry, place (but not too cool!)
  • Pick up any fallen fruit around fruit trees to prevent pests from overwintering and attacking next year’s crop.
  • Mow the lawn.
  • Flush any irrigation lines that aren’t below the frost line.
  • Water any plants that need it before the ground  freezes.


  • Clean your vegetable gardens.  Remove any old plants and foliage that has fallen on the soil.  Weed and mulch with straw or leaves.
  • Empty soil from pots can’t handle freezing (ceramic, terra cotta, many plastic pots, etc) and bring pots inside.
  • Bring in garden hoses.
  • Turn off outdoor faucets.

Remember, this is just my list.  Yours might be different, and if you’re in a different hardiness zone you might have to shift the timeline a little.

Over the next few weeks we’ll cover some of these items in more detail, and we’ll update the items above with links to the corresponding posts.


What exactly am I doing here?

Mallorn Computing mentioned in The Garden.

Judy White and Graham Rice’s 1999 article mentioning Mallorn Computing in The Garden magazine.

What exactly am I doing here?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to start an existentialist discussion.  This is more likely to be a discussion about social media, pleasing the masses, and picking a direction and sticking with it.  Maybe not even a discussion.  We’ll call it a soul-searching rant (with just a hint of existentialism, a smattering of positivism, and a dash of rationalism).

hort.net has been around for eighteen years (sixteen if you don’t count the time it was hosted by Mallorn Computing, Inc.).  In internet years that’s as old as dirt.  Some of the same features that were started in 1995 are still active (which I’ll claim as a testament to my excellent coding skills and not some fluke or indication of laziness in updating things).  Other features are newer (like our sHORTurl service).  I’m trying to grow and accommodate the needs of Internet users, but lately it’s been like herding cats.  Or trying to find Thismia americana.

It seems that when I start working on a feature for hort.net the Internet landscape will change, and then I’ll have to switch gears to work on another feature.  Rinse, repeat.  I’m starting a lot of projects and finishing none of them.  For example, I was trying to make the image gallery into a canonical source of plant photographs for people.  But then Google essentially stole the content and people stopped visiting.  They could get the photos from Google without even being aware that hort.net existed.

So I started blogging and facebooking and tweeting to bring new visitors to hort.net, but it doesn’t feel quite right.  It might be because I’m rudderless.  I’m posting a scattered hodge-podge of miscellaneous gardening links with no real commonality.  A lot of people make a very successful living doing nothing and talking about it, but that doesn’t particularly interest me.  The whole social media thing is like a giant mutual appreciation society — I’ll follow you if you follow me.  And I have been — following right down the rabbit hole, wondering why my Klout score had dropped or I was unfollowed, and traffic to hort.net still wasn’t increasing.

I started hort.net to leverage technology for the green industry.  I have a BLA (Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a MS (Master of Science) in Horticulture from the same institution.  But as a kid I was a computer nerd and accomplished a great number of nerdly things.¹   In college most of my elective courses involved things like computer visualization, databases, and programming, and I took on special projects to tie it into my curricula.  This was cutting edge stuff in pre-internet days.  I saw (and still see) how little the green industry used technology, and I wanted to make a difference by melding the two.

I don’t feel that I’ve accomplished that…  yet.  I started down the right path, to the point that Mallorn Computing and hort.net were mentioned in magazines like RHS’s The Garden or Horticulture here in the states.  But I don’t have focus.

Instead, I think I need to pick one topic and run with it.  I have an idea, and I think that you’ll all like it when it’s announced.

Social media is great for getting the word out and has its place, but it’s not going to add content and features to the site.  It’s not going to make people want to stay and participate.  So for now I may tweet and post and blog and whatever, but my expectations and reasons will be different.  I’ll be sharing something because I think it’s interesting or needs to be said, but social media won’t be the focus.  I’m not doing it for the exposure, but instead for the ability to share with people.  I’ll tend to our gardens, both virtual and real, and let that feed my soul.  Hopefully I’ll make the world a better place in the process.

tl;dr²:  Now I’m hanging out with you because you’re interesting, not because I want something.  And hort.net is going to get cooler.

¹ At twelve I wrote programs to manage my stamp collection and balance my mother’s checkbook; by the age of 17 I had written a basic window manager in Assembly that ran on MSDOS 3.3.  I told you — nerdly.
²tl;dr stands for ‘Too long; didn’t read’.  It provides a summary.

2013 fall plant orders, part 2

Hosta ‘Paradise Joyce’ in the garden. Who can deny the beauty of that foliage? Stuff like this made me order more.

When I first started gardening I didn’t care for Hosta much.  I wanted the flashy perennials that wowed you with colorful flowers, fruit, and foliage.  What I didn’t realize then is that those characteristics are often a flash in the pan; you’re later left with nothing but drab brown seed pods, wilting foliage, or worse — a carpet of solid green.

That doesn’t mean that Hosta are the ultimate answer.  But what they can do is provide a stable architectural foundation in your garden from spring to fall that you can utilize when designing the rest of your beds.  And they’re not ugly!  Some are fragrant, many are variegated in hues of white, cream, gold, steely blue, even picking up hints of orange and red now.  Their sizes vary, they’re tough and don’t need a ton of water or maintenance, and they all have different architectural qualities.  So when I was looking at all of the holes in my garden this summer I realized that I really needed more Hosta.

After looking around online I placed an order this fall from New Hampshire Hostas¹.  They had great prices and great stock, so I figured “Why not?”   Here’s what I ordered:

  • 1 Athyrium filix­-femina ‘Victoriae’
  • 3 Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Coconut Custard’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Doubled Up’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Dream Queen’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Dress Blues’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Extasy’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Fantabulous’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Flemish Sky’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Frozen Margarita’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Gentle Giant’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Goodness Gracious’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Great Expectations’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Ice Prancer’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Kiwi Full Monty’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Orange Marmalade’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Prairie Sky’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Rainforest Sunrise’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Shimmy Shake’
  • 1 Hosta ‘Striptease’
  • 2 Hosta ‘Tiny Bubbles’

My big order of Hosta had arrived!

All of the Hosta laid out on the coffee table. Lula looks on approvingly.

The plants all arrived in great shape, and although some of the plants had lost their leaves because it was so late in the season I could tell that the crowns and roots were strong.

Of course, I’m faced with the same problem as last time. Where do I put them all? I have ideas, but time is running out as Old Man Winter approaches. I may plant them in a holding bed with a lot of mulch to prevent heaving, then get out there in the spring and move them to permanent homes.

It will be tough to wait. Some of these Hosta are really exciting to me — ‘Gentle Giant’ can reach 6′ wide and 4′ tall; how’s that for a bold statement in the garden?  Maybe I’ll have to order more in the spring…

¹ I have no business relationship with New Hampshire Hostas at the time of this writing.