When to transplant clematis?

George Weigel Purple clematis is a favorite flowering vine in central Pa. They’re best transplanted in early spring, although early fall is OK, too.


My father-in-law recently passed on, and we are in the process of cleaning out his house. I noticed yesterday a gorgeous clematis, dark purple, growing on the east side of his home. My husband remembers it being there for a long time. I would like to transplant it at my own home but am unsure how to go about that. Any help is appreciated. It would be a great way to remember my in-laws.

A: Clematis can be transplanted, but the best time to do it is in late winter or early spring, just before new growth starts. September or early October is another OK time.
Either way, start by preparing the new site at your house. Dig a generous area (the bigger the better) and work an inch or two of compost into the soil. I’d also work in a few handfuls of granular organic fertilizer such as Espoma’s Plant-tone and a scattering of mycorrhizal fungi (root-helping fungi sold under a variety of brand names in most garden-center fertilizer sections these days).

Before digging out the clematis, cut it back to about a foot. With a sharp spade, start out about a foot out from the base of the plant and work your way down and around, down and around, down and around, until the plant loosens. Clematis are pretty deep-rooted, so go down and try to get as much of the root system as possible.

Wrap the excavated plant in burlap or wet newspaper during the move and get it back into the ground at your place ASAP. Plant it just a hair deeper than it was – about an inch below grade to encourage new shoots to sprout from the roots. This is an exception, by the way. Most woody plants should be planted at grade or slightly above.

Cover the ground with about 2 inches of bark mulch, making sure to keep the mulch a couple of inches back away from the stem so as not to rot it. Then give the plant a good soaking and keep the ground consistently damp the first full growing season. Basically, treat it like a new plant.

One other thing you might want to consider if this is a particularly sentimental plant – take a few cuttings before moving the plant. New clematis can be started by cutting a few branch tips (early summer is the best time) and rooting them with a rooting hormone in potting mix. Layering is another way to get new plants going in early fall. If you can get a few “babies” started, that’ll be some backup insurance in case the mother plant doesn’t survive the move. Layering involves pinning a nicked section of branch to the ground to encourage roots to grow from that section.

Q: I have been nurturing a clematis vine for several years. Last year there were several flowers and finally this spring the plant is loaded with buds! What can I expect when trying to dig out the plant to move it to a better spot? Do the roots run shallow or deep? There are not many branches at the base of the plant but the top is spread across a small trellis; so should I keep the plant intact with the trellis or should I cut it all back to dig it out?

I have the same questions for a very small azalea.


A: The International Clematis Society (www.clematisinternational.com) says clematis is best moved in the late winter before the plant breaks dormancy. It recommends cutting back the top to about 12 to 18 inches and digging a foot diameter around the root ball. Dig deeply because the roots of a mature clematis vine can go as far as 4 feet down. Preserve as many roots as you can. Dig the new hole before digging up the clematis.

Make the hole large and deep — deep enough to allow room for compost or aged manure in the bottom of the hole. When replanting, add a handful of bone meal on top of the compost in the bottom of the hole. Plant the clematis 2 to 4 inches deeper than it was previously planted. Fill hole with compost or enriched topsoil, tamp and water in. The plant will need supplemental watering for the next few seasons until it re-establishes the root system. Apply mulch around the plant base to retain moisture and slow evaporation.

Fall is the best time to move your azalea. Spring is an option but be prepared to water regularly during the hot summer until the azalea roots get established. The root system is fibrous and shallow so dig around the plant about as wide and deep as the plant. Dig the new hole first if possible. Make the new hole slightly larger than the original one and incorporate organic material or perlite to improve drainage.

When replanting, the top of the root ball should be even with the surface of the ground or an inch or two above ground if drainage is not good. The ideal location has well-drained soil with an acid pH (5.5-6.5) and partial shade. Check out the American Rhododendron Society for more information on azaleas or rhododendrons (www.rhododendron.org).

Plant now

After weeks of dry weather, we’ve finally had some rain and the gardens are growing rapidly. Take advantage of the spring weather and plant out your perennials now so that they can establish themselves before the hot, dry summer weather.

Select healthy plants with no sign of pests or disease. Check pots for ample roots but not totally root bound. Read the plant tag carefully noting the size, color, bloom and cultural information. Match the plant’s needs to your garden conditions. I bought a beautiful pot of Lewisia without reading the entire label. It needs poor soil and lots of drainage — two things not found in my garden. However, it will do quite well in a clay pot with plenty of grit or gravel added to the potting soil.

Source for baby tears

Q: Years ago I had baby tears plant and I would like to get some again. I can’t find them anywhere not even in all the seed catalogs I get. Do you know where I could get some? I know you get around to a lot of places.

— Darlene Greene

A: Baby tears is generally grown as a houseplant. It has tiny green leaves and a ground-hugging habit. Several plants are sold as Baby’s tears, Soleirolia soleirolii (Mind Your Own Business or Angel Tears), is one; it likes bright, indirect light and evenly moist but not soggy soil. Another plant sold as baby’s tears is Pilea (Helxine soleirolii) which some identify as the same plant.

I don’t have a local source, but I can find a few sources for mail order: Pepper’s Greenhouses (www.accentsforhomeandgarden.com), Josh’s Frogs (www.joshsfrogs.com), and Glassworks (www.glasshouseworks.com/). Check for businesses selling terrarium plants. If anyone knows of a local source, please forward the information to me and I will make sure Darlene gets it.

Plant sales

•Busy Workers’ Plant Sale: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. May 12, Christian Ed. Building of Central Moravian Church (40 W. Church St., Bethlehem, 610-866-5661). Flowering annuals, hanging baskets, vegetable and herb plants, perennials from local home gardens. Special note: Daylilies from Lorraine Chilton’s former nursery, Oak Meadow Daylily Farm will be available. Refreshments and crafts for sale.

•Saucon Valley History Day: A plant sale featuring native plants at the Heller Homestead (1890-92 Friedenville Road, Hellertown http://www.sauconvalleyconservancy.com) as part of festivities 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. today

•American Rhododendron Society: Lehigh Valley Chapter Annual Plant Sale, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. May 12, at Bethlehem Area Vo-Tech School (3300 Chester Ave., Bethlehem Township) featuring unusual rhododendrons and azaleas.

Sue Kittek is a freelance garden columnist, writer, and lecturer. Send questions to Garden Keeper at [email protected] or mail: Garden Keeper, The Morning Call, P.O. Box 1260, Allentown, PA 18105.

This Week in the Garden

•Start seeds for: Pumpkins, eggplant, summer squash, and winter squash.

•Direct sow: Celeric, celery, cabbage, carrots, collards, bunching onions, onion sets, parsnips and Swiss chard.

•Start seeds for: Eggplant, summer squash, and winter squash, baby’s breath, cosmos, and zinnias.

•Direct sow: Cabbage, carrots, collards, bunching onions, onion sets, parsnips and Swiss chard, Chinese cabbage, endive, escarole, kale, kohlrabi, leeks, head lettuce and leaf lettuce, beets, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, peas, radishes, spinach and turnips.

•Follow your schedule for starting seeds. Check packets for instructions such as start indoors four weeks before last frost date. Then, using a calendar, count back from your area’s date (April 10-15 for southern Lehigh Valley, May 10-15 for northern areas) for the appropriate starting time.

•Visit nurseries as they open for inspiration and new plants. Shop for summer bulbs.

•Prune and divide perennials. Hostas and daylilies are up and ready to divide.


•Apply broadleaf weed control in the lawn by the end of May.

•Apply preemergent crabgrass control by mid May.

•Dethatch lawns by mid May.

•Apply spring lawn fertilizer treatments by mid June.

•Complete sod projects by the end of May to allow the grass to

establish before the heat of summer.

•Seed lawns now until mid-May.

•Clean pots, trays and other planting materials and equipment.

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