Perennials Planting

Saving Plants from the Excavator

Question: We’ll soon be having a French drain installed all around our house. However, that’s where I grow most of my perennials and even some shrubs. I obviously intend to dig up everything before the excavation work, but I’m not sure exactly how to do it. I’d love to save my precious plants, but maybe I should just give them away. What do you think?

Kim Picard-Lavigne

Answer: Do keep them (unless you have too many, then you can share). You see, maintaining plants dug out of the ground over a short period is really much simpler than you might have thought.

Obviously, the most logical time to dig up any plant would be when it’s dormant. So, if possible, have work done early in the spring or in the fall. But of course, that isn’t always possible.

If you have to have the job done in the middle of the growing season, so be it. In that case, simply add one more step to the process: that of removing any flowers or flower buds present at the time. Blooming saps too much of a plant’s energy, energy it will be needing in order to re-root. So, don’t hesitate to sacrifice this season’s blooms knowing they’ll be back next year.

While you’re digging up your perennials, you might consider to divide some of them. Photo: Better Homes and Gardens, http://www.youtube.com

Now, dig up your plants, making sure each has a good root ball.

Pack them together in the shade and keep moist. Ill.: laidbackgardener.blog

Place them in the shade, packing them against each other (thus, each plant will help protect the roots of its neighbor). Water regularly: you don’t want the roots to dry out.

If the job is going to take a week or two rather than just a few days, add another step and cover the root balls in mulch. Keep the mulch moist too.

Only if the job is going to take months would it be worthwhile taking the extra step of potting the plants up temporarily, each in its own pot.

When the Workers Leave

When the job is finished and the workers have left, all that remains to do is to replant the plants with their root ball intact at the same depth as at they were originally and at an appropriate spacing. Finish with an application of mulch. Water well as needed the following weeks as the plants rebuild a new network of roots, keeping the soil somewhat moist at all times. This is not a good time to stress plants with a lack of water!

Once the plants have settled in, it’s business as usual. Just carry out your usual routine maintenance.


Saving plants during major renovations is much easier to do than you might think!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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