How to Transplant Ground Cover Plants

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Sooner or later, every vigorously growing ground cover needs thinning. When that day approaches, it's time to make a decision about what to do with the plants you pull from the ground: give them away, feed them to the yard-waste bin or transplant them to another location. As long as that location has the same type of soil, drainage and amount of sunlight as the existing one, transplanting beautifies it at next-to-no cost.

Start preparing the new site early in the growing season of the year before you intend to transplant.

Before Moving the Plants

Things You'll Need

  • Heavy-duty gloves
  • Protective clothing, including long pants and a long-sleeved shirt
  • Spade or rotary tiller
  • Ruler or tape measure
  • Rake
  • Yard-waste bags
  • Organic compost
  • Lawn mower or weed string trimmer (optional)
  • Black plastic sheeting (optional)
  • Hose (optional)
  • Bricks or other weights (optional)
  • Organic mulch

Preparing a Small Site

Step 1

Put on heavy-duty gloves, long pants, a long-sleeved shirt and any other clothing that will protect your skin.

Step 2

Loosen the new planting site's top 6 inches of soil by using a spade or rototiller. The task will uproot sprouted weeds and bring weed seeds to the surface.

Step 3

Rake the uprooted weeds and other debris into piles. Put the piles in yard-waste bags for disposal.

Step 4

Work a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic compost into the loosened soil with the spade or rotary tiller. Compost improves drainage and releases nutrients as it decays.

Step 5

Hand-pull seeds as they sprout during the growing season in the new planting site.

Tip

  • A 2-inch layer of compost equates to 600 pounds for each 10 square feet of soil.

Warning

  • Many weeds contain toxic sap. Wear gloves and other protective clothing when handling them.

Preparing a Large Site

Digging weeds from a large site is tedious and exhausting. An easier option is to smother or cook them with black plastic sheeting.

Step 1

Mow or string-trim large weeds in early summer in the new planting site. If, however, all the weeds are small enough for the weight of black plastic sheeting to flatten them, then skip this task.

Step 2

Collect the large weeds and other debris while wearing heavy-duty gloves and other protective clothing. Dispose of them in yard-waste bags.

Step 3

Wet the top 1 foot of soil with water from a hose. Wet soil conducts weed-killing heat more effectively than dry soil.

Step 4

Mound the soil slightly with the rake, ensuring the black plastic sheeting will make good contact with it. Spread the black plastic sheeting over the soil, overlapping the sheets as needed to prevent gaps.

Step 5

Place enough bricks or other weights along the plastic sheeting's edges and overlaps to secure the plastic against the soil.

Step 6

Remove the plastic sheeting from the soil after one to two months. The lack of oxygen and heat under the plastic should have killed germinated seeds and weed seeds in the top 6 inches of soil during that time period.

Step 7

Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic compost over the soil without working it into the soil. Otherwise, you may move weed seeds deeper than 6 inches to the surface.

Tip

  • Where summers are very hot, one month under the black plastic is typically enough to kill most weeds and seeds. Elsewhere, leaving the plastic in place for six to eight weeks is safer.

Moving the Plants

Plan to transplant early in summer the year after preparing the new site. The delay gives the soil time to benefit from the compost. In cold-winter climates, it also allows the transplants time to develop strong roots as anchors against frost heaves.

Step 1

Dig holes in the new site, making them deep enough to hold the transplants at their original soil depth. For the quickest ground coverage, dig the holes in staggered rows so the plants in one row are spaced between the plants in the next row.

Step 2

Set each plant in its own hole with its roots spread and its crown -- where the stems meet the roots -- at the same soil depth it was in the original hole. Fill the rest of each hole with soil, tamping gently as you go to remove air pockets.

Step 3

Water the new planting bed well. Water settles the soil.

Step 4

Spread a 2- inch layer of organic mulch over the soil with the rake. Until the plants have filled the area enough to shade the soil, mulch helps prevent weed germination.

Tip

  • For quickly spreading, carpet-forming ground-cover plants such as thyme (Thymus praecox), which is perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8, put the planting holes 8 to 12 inches apart. For clumping ground covers such as hostas (Hosta spp., USDA zones 3 through 9, depending on the variety) space the holes at one-half the distance of the plants' mature widths.

Follow-Up Care

Newly planted ground covers establish most quickly when they receive water and fertilize at regular intervals. Continue watering the transplants on the same schedule they had in their original location. Begin fertilizing them one month to six weeks after transplanting, giving them granulated, timed-release, 12-4-8 fertilizer.

One manufacturer recommends sprinkling 1 tablespoon of its 12-4-8 fertilizer evenly over each 1 square foot of soil every three months during the growing season. Keep fertilizer off the plants. Rake it lightly into the soil, and water the soil well.

Tip

  • Follow the label's instructions for the fertilizer you choose.

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