Dividing/transplanting perennials and grasses in Omaha

mikeygraz(5 Omaha, NE)September 29, 2007

Hey everyone-

We recently moved from southwest Ohio (Cincinnati/Dayton area, a nice zone 6, occasionally getting away with zone 7 hardy plants) to the Great Plains. We've spent one winter here and it certainly was a shock...when winter hits here it is REALLY winter...cold and frozen, very windy. Very different from my gardens in SW Ohio were I had something blooming almost every month of the year (sometimes every month if it was a good year).

Anyways, getting the point of this post. I'd like to transplant some perennials (Amsonia taebermontana, Stokesia laevis, Baptisia lactea, Carex ssp.). Would these plants survive the winter being transplanted now, or am I going to have to wait until early spring to move them? I don't think the ground will be frozen here until mid-late December, maybe later. Out here I thought it would be good to get a jump start on spring and move them now, let them get somewhat established so they can better handle our hot, dry summers.

I was also hoping to divide/transplant several large Miscanthus sinensis 'Adagio' or 'Morning Light' - they didn't have labels when we moved here but its one of those cultivars. Do you think it would be alright to divide and transplant some of these?

Also, I assume it would be alright to keep on planting container grown perennials still, right? I have some Baptisia australis, Filipendula rubra, Chasmanthium latifolium, Perovskia 'Little Spire') that are still in the containers i bought them in. When do you think it would be unwise to stop putting in perennials for the year? I'd like to get a few plantings in the ground before it gets too cold out.

Any advice, especially from great plains gardeners, would be very appreciated from this displaced easterner/forest lover.



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Mike..I wouldn't divide any of the grasses you mention now, with the possible exception of Carex. It's the only one that's probably a cool season grass, and may be able to get itself established before the serious cold sets in.

All the other grasses are warm season grasses, and will enter dormancy pretty soon. They won't have time to settle in before dormancy, and probably wouldn't survive a cold winter.

Regarding container plants. It's a pretty well accepted rule that you lose 2 hardiness zones in above ground containers. That means if the plant is hardy to zone 5 in the ground, it acts like a zone 7 plant in an above ground container. A good way to combat this effect is to bury the pot in the ground. I use my veggie patches every winter, to bury potted plants. I dig a trench, and set them in one at a time, backfilling thoroughly around them as I go.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 1:31PM
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mikeygraz(5 Omaha, NE)

Thanks Donn, I appreciate that. We've got some really nice, big M. sinensis and I would hate to lose them. I'll just wait until spring to divide those guys.

I was sort of unclear when I talked about my container plants, sorry about that. What I meant was I recently bought the aforementioned plants and was just wanted to make sure if it was OK to plant them in the ground this fall (as opposed to keeping them in the pots and maybe putting them in the garage or something). Thanks for that info about the losing 2 hardiness zones for above ground containers though - I've got some hostas and ferns in pots, and I'm glad I have that bit of information now. Thanks a lot! I appreciate it, I would hate to lose any of my plants.

take care,

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 2:45PM
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webkat5(Z6a MO)

Baptisia prefers to remain where it is....I wouldn't transplant that one...

The ones that are in pots...plant now...they will fair much better in the ground than in their pots....

Transplant (ground to ground) in the spring.

Donn can get away with transplanting in the fall, but for those of us with early freezes, we really have better luck waiting until the spring after the ground thaws again...

I wouldn't plant any perennails after the middle of October....you might get away with trees and shrubs, though.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 5:32PM
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"Donn can get away with transplanting in the fall.."

I'm getting spoiled. I also moved from Ohio, the NE snow belt, but I moved from 5 to 7, and the luxury is dramatic.

That said, I did quite a bit of fall planting and transplanting in NE Ohio. First frosts don't stop cool season perennials from growing, especially their roots. Even in zone 5, it takes a good bit of sustained, well below freezing weather to freeze the soil below the surface.

A rule of thumb I use for fall planting is to avoid disturbing roots. If I can install a potted plant without having to tease, cut back or otherwise disturb the roots, I'll do it. If the plant is pretty root bound, I leave it in the pot, and bury the pot. Sometimes, the roots will grow out of the drainage holes and into the surrounding soil, but when I pull them in early spring, they are usually getting a haircut anyway, and a little root pruning just stimulates new root growth.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 6:19PM
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I'm a zone lower than you are and I wouldn't risk a division now on anything although I would plant something that's currently potted just to get it in the ground. Still have a little leeway in getting bulbs in. Do you mulch or otherwise protect things? I keep my fingers crossed for a good snow cover - best for insolation. On years when snow has been inadequate I can always count on wind dessication, sun scald, etc. If we've got snow cover, wind chills of -50 or better are a walk in the park for zone appropriate perennials.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 6:20PM
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webkat5(Z6a MO)

Donn, OP is now in Nebraska...quite a difference from Ohio, they say....hmmmmmmm.....

    Bookmark   September 29, 2007 at 6:59PM
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I'm about 4 hours NW of Omaha and I am still dividing and planting. I will probably quit soon though. I'd get them in the ground asap. Water well and it wouldn't hurt mulch the new ones for the winter. I've been gardening 10 years here and I lose very little. I agree to wait until spring to divide the grasses. Zone 5 isn't so bad ;o)

    Bookmark   September 30, 2007 at 9:16AM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

I use as a rule of thumb, no dividing, planting, transplanting of perennials in zone 5 after the end of September. But if you move fast and do it this week, they'll probably be ok.

Trees and shrubs are an entirely different story and here at least can be moved as late as early December.

BTW, Tony Avent of Plant Delights, the Baptisia expert, says that it's a myth that Baptisias are difficult to move. My experience also.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 5:57AM
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mikeygraz(5 Omaha, NE)

Hey all - thanks so much for all this help. I will certainly wait to divide anything that is established and will just leave my plants where they are until spring. I really wanted to transplant things earlier, but we've just had intense heat until a couple weeks ago (still regularly in the high 80s and 90s, very little rain, drying winds), but I'll just leave them until early spring. I'll keep on planting a few more perennials though.

Laceyvail - I completely agree with you and Tony. I've grown Baptisia for around 10 years and I have moved several of them. If you dig deep enough and do it early (or late) in the season, I have no lost a single plant and all the transplanted specimens bloom the very next year and honestly don't seem to lose any of their vigor.

Thanks all!

    Bookmark   October 1, 2007 at 11:14AM
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I just found this website as I was looking for info about transplanting baptisia. Thanks everyone for your advice. I'm tired of the way mine is taking up bed space so now i'll move it instead of pitching it which is what I was going to do since I'd heard they couldn't be moved.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2007 at 3:32PM
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