If you have a spot in your garden or yard that has about the same conditions as their original location, you may be able to transplant native plants. However, before you dig up that wild orchid or flowering ground cover, make sure that the plants aren’t on the endangered species list. Your local University Extension Service can help you determine that and they can also help you with planting tips for the native plants in your area. You should also make sure that you have permission from the landowner if the plant isn’t on your property.
Even if the plants you’re interested in aren’t rare or endangered, it’s best to make sure that there are enough plants of that type before you remove any. If there are only one or two, perhaps it would be better to choose another type of plant or check with local nurseries to see if they have any.
The next thing you need to do is make sure that the spot you’re transplanting to duplicates as closely as possible the setting the plant is in. If it’s growing in a high and dry woodland setting, don’t try to set it out in the full sun or in a spot with poor drainage. Consider how much sunlight it gets, how windy it is, how much rain it gets and what kind of soil it’s growing in. Is the soil acid or alkaline? Clay or sandy?
Preparation is everything when transplanting anything, but never more so than when the plant is growing in the wild. If possible, prepare the plant months before you actually move it. For most plants, this means getting the roots ready for transplanting by pruning them with a sharp spade so that they’ll form a compact root ball. This stimulates new root growth at the cut edges, with the biggest growth taking place about six inches out from the edges.
Then, when the plant becomes dormant in the fall and you dig it up, be sure that you take as much soil as possible beyond the new roots. I’ve had very good success with transplanting native plants, and I think it’s because I always go way overboard with the amount of soil I take with each plant. I don’t dig down deeply, but I do take about four times the circumference of the root ball in soil. A cardboard box can be handy to set the plant into to transport it to its new location.
After you dig up the plant, prepare the new location by digging a hole not quite as deep as the one the plant came out of, and as wide as the clump of soil you’ve taken with the plant. Put some of the soil that you dug up with the plant into the bottom of the hole and as you plant, intersperse the new soil with the soil that the plant came with. This will reduce planting shock and help the plant settle into its new home.
It’s best not to plant native plants too deeply, but you should firm the soil around them and stake them if necessary, to support them and so that you’ll remember where they are as the seasons progress and won’t step on them by accident. Fertilizer isn’t required, but mulch should be applied around them to conserve water and simulate their natural environment. Water, of course, as you would any transplant, but don’t overwater. Check the soil to see if it’s dry before watering and water deeply enough to soak the ground but not enough to saturate the plant.
With some effort, native plants can add a special, natural touch to your yard or garden. With the right planting method and some tender loving care in the beginning, they’ll give you many years of trouble-free beauty