Pruning – Transplanting – Fall or Winter?

Now that vegetable harvest has slowed somewhat, I’ve been spending most of my allotted outdoor time (2 to 3 hours) in the borders, especially the back borders.

We lost many of our older Yaku Jima Japanese Silver Grass this past winter to record cold. These grasses make a great living fence on our property lines and are beautiful as a back drop for other plants in my borders. The borders have looked bare without them.

I didn’t replant this spring, but rather took the season to reevaluate the borders to see if I could think of how to improve on things. (We can ALWAYS improve on things.)

Taking Out Plants That Have Outgrown Their Space

Rather than waiting until spring, I’m taking out parts of various plants that have outgrown their space.
For example, some daylilies quickly outgrow their space. Stella d’oro is one.

I just take my digger/chopper tool and chop out what I don’t want, leaving the size piece that I know will be perfect.

This old maddox is the tool I enjoy using. The handle is shorter than the new ones I’ve seen on the current market. It really makes the job of chopping of the excess plant really easy. Much easier then using a shovel.

This old maddox is the tool I enjoy using. The handle is shorter than the new ones I’ve seen on the current market. It really makes the job of chopping out the excess plant really easy. Much easier then using a shovel.

Giant Rudbeckia is another plant than grows robustly. I took out one big clump and will replace it with mums. I took out at least half of the other clumps. A few pieces I relocated.

I removed a large section of siberian iris. Transplanted one piece right on the property line. Having only one piece will give me some time to think about if I want it there or somewhere else.

Sedums are another plant that I literally chop the excess away and leave a smaller piece.

It’s not necessary to coddle any of these plants. They’re tough.

What to Do with the Excess?

Chopped out excess, I turn upside down to dry.  Hopefully the plants will die and return to the soil and feed my other plants.

All of these plants are extremely strong and can root again if you don’t watch them. Especially the daylilies. It’s hard to get them to give up!

Not the Time, but I Took a Chance

It’s really not the time to prune shrubs and trees, but I have a Viburnum and a Sambucus that I’ve not been happy with. I couldn’t stand it any longer and I cut them back. I’m taking a chance when I hard prune a shrub or tree that’s not dormant, but it’s a chance I was willing to take. (They get one more growing season to prove themselves. If they don’t, they’re out!)

We took out a couple of shrubs that had really looked good in prior years, but were killed (or in the process of being killed) by invasive/monster roots from a neighbors property. (Long story. Real nightmare. I’m developing strategies to try to live with it the next 30 years.)

The “Right” Time to Prune Trees and Shrubs

The “right” time to prune is after trees and shrubs are dormant. Hard pruning won’t shock a plant that is dormant.

If you’re just cutting a few branches to maintain the shape, you can do that anytime. Also dead wood can be removed anytime during the year.

When is a Plant Dormant?

After your area has a hard freeze for several hours, your plants will go dormant.

Exceptions to Pruning When Dormant?

The exception, as you probably already know, is for plants that bloom in the spring. They can be pruned immediately after bloom so you won’t loose the buds that form in fall, winter, and early spring. Loosing those buds would reduce your spring bloom.

If you have to prune at another time, you can. Just be prepared to loose some bloom.

I’ll hard prune my buddleias, purple hedge, barberry, and leather leaf anytime after it freezes.

I usually (not always) wait to do heavy pruning on rose bushes until just before they break dormancy in early spring or late winter.

Moving Trees and Shrubs

If you plan to relocate a tree or shrub, do it while it’s dormant so it won’t suffer from the shock.

I like to do it in early spring, just before they breaks dormancy.

Final Thoughts

This is a beautiful time of year to work on your flower borders.  I hope you still have lots of bloom in your borders so that you can enjoy the beauty while you work towards next year.

One of my favorite mums with sedums that have turned dark.

One of my favorite mums with sedums that have turned crimson. The buds just started to open today.



The sun on this illex that is loaded with berries was SPECTACULAR this afternoon and a photo just can’t do it justice.  But – it’s all I could do.



My favorite yellow mums are just starting to open.  The dwarf buddleia to the right still has bloom to compliment them.



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5 comments to Pruning – Transplanting – Fall or Winter?

  • Toni

    Beautiful photos Theresa. Thank you for posting a bit about pruning. I usually get in and hack up my shrubs and fruit trees at the wrong time. It is so amazing that they are still alive and hanging in there. I have indeed hampered their production many times though.

  • MB

    Hi Theresa,
    I’ve struggled at a couple different homes with tree roots coming over from neighbors’ yards. I had to abandon some raised beds we put in after a couple years because of tree roots at our old place and I have one bed at my new house that I have found tons of roots in too that weren’t there before and plants did poorly in that bed this summer. I think it’s because we have drip irrigation and the tree roots have found it. Have you written articles about that? I’d love to know what your strategies are for dealing with it. Creating some kind of underground wall??? I have no idea! I love your site. I am on the opposite side of the continent from you and your blog is my favorite.

  • Theresa

    Hi Mari Beth,
    I’ve written about tree roots as part of a couple of posts, but can’t recall which ones they were.

    The bottom line is trees will find your garden beds if they’re close enough. Believe me, an underground wall would not keep them out.

    If I abandoned my garden beds because of tree roots, I would never have gardened.

    When a garden is first prepared, tree roots should be dug out. Ideally dig them back to 3 feet before the edge of the garden starts. That way it will give you a little time before they make their way back.

    At our previous garden we had big maple trees, gum trees, cedar trees, and persimmon trees along the edge within a foot of the garden. When we dug them out we dug back 3 feet from the garden and that way we didn’t have to dig the following year, but usually did the year after that.

    Take out deep roots and top fibrous roots in any garden beds when you find them. If you keep up with it, it’s not that bad. Vegetables can’t compete with the tree roots. As you have found out, the trees will take all the moisture.

    With flower borders it’s not as critical. I have one border that the fibrous roots of the maple gets into the top surface of the soil. I take a hand tool and pull those out every year or every other year depending on how bad they are. I don’t worry about the big roots that are down deep when it comes to the flower borders. The perennials usually do fine in spite of that.

    If you dealing with a monster tree that is invasive like The Tree of Heaven or one like it, then you really have your hands full. But with regular tree roots like maples, oaks, cedars, and lots of other trees you just have to watch for the roots and dig them out when they come.

    Sorry there’s no silver bullet. Wish there were.

    So glad you love TMG. I love having you as a reader!


  • MB

    Thank you Theresa for your answer! I guess that makes sense to just dig the roots out every year if needed. I hate to disturb that natural soil structure we’re always working towards but I guess in this case we have no choice because the tree roots are destroying it anyway. Thanks again. Happy holidays!

  • Theresa

    I know how you feel about the natural soil structure. But as you said, we have no choice in the case of tree roots.
    Ideally, if one can garden a distance from trees, it makes life easier. But – things are not always perfect for us.
    Good luck with those roots!

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