Tag Archives: Moving large plants

The saga of Yucca whipplei

Yucca whipplei did at least give total privacy from garden visitors when sitting indoors

Yucca whipplei did at least give total privacy from garden visitors when sitting indoors

It was a bit of a milestone here last week as we completed the task of Moving Yucca Whipplei. This has been such a long story that I even have a folder of photos on my computer devoted to the move. When we planted the yucca in the narrow border by the house getting on for 30 years ago (I am pretty sure Felix was still alive at the time), I guess we figured it would be a tidy mound of grey foliage in that difficult dry border. Obviously neither Mark nor I looked it up and this would have been prior to the age when it was easy to do a quick net search.

But Yucca whipplei grew. And grew until it blocked almost the entire window of our TV room. While not as fiercely prickly as some members of the yucca family, it was not a plant with which you would want to tangle. I stopped cleaning the outside of that set of windows. A few years ago I declared I wanted it gone, which to Mark meant it had to be moved, not destroyed.

After more than 25 years, it flowered

After more than 25 years, it flowered

005Our ever handy man on the spot, Lloyd, cut back the concrete in anticipation of the move. That was on June 14, 2012. But time passed and other jobs always seemed more urgent. Towards the end of 2014, we spotted a flower spike forming. That was pretty exciting, given that the plant was over 25 years old and had never bloomed before. Moving it was out of the question.

The flower was a delight. Spectacular, even, as it grew ever bigger – reaching past the roof on the lower storey of the house. The flower passed and still the yucca remained.

Peaking above the roof on the first storey

Peaking above the roof on the first storey

Come September last year, the men were coming to install double glazing on that window so the main spike was cut down and removed. This was no mean feat. Mark had hoped he could chainsaw it off but the leaves just chewed up and choked the chainsaw. There was no alternative to clippers and a hand saw.

Removing the main stem last year

Removing the main stem last year

The remaining stump sprouted most enthusiastically and this year, I created the ideal spot out of the way on a sunny hillside where it could be relocated to its forever home. Fortunately, a yucca is not like a tree where the root system is critical but even so, it was a fairly major exercise to dig it out and then lift it away. It is now safely planted well away from any windows and we hope to see it flourish. The hot, sunny, protected position left vacant outside our TV room windows is destined to be the new home for a frangipani that has been waiting in the wings (which is to say, in Mark’s covered house). We are extremely marginal for a frangipani, but I have my fingers crossed.

The final removal was no small task and involved two men, a tractor and a heavy chain

The final removal was no small task and involved two men, a tractor and a heavy chain

I see I wrote in October last year: “As far as we know, this is Yucca whipplei, also known as Hesperoyucca whipplei, chaparral yucca, Our Lord’s candle, Spanish bayonet, Quixote yucca or foothill yucca. So Wikipedia tells me. Apparently the most common name is Our Lord’s candle. It being native to southern America from California through to Mexico, it clearly felt right at home in the bone dry conditions of the house border beneath the eaves.”

Yuccan whipplei in its 'forever home"

Yuccan whipplei in its ‘forever home”

That chapter has closed. Our Lord’s candle is set to burn with renewed vigour over on the sunny hillside.

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Garden Lore

“A U garden need not be large. Herbaceous borders are U, and so are weeds. Neat beds of annuals and yellow conifers, especially the dwarf species, are non-U. But yew is always U.”

Robin Brackenbury What are U? (1969)

005 (2)
Garden Lore: Moving plants

It is possible to move relatively large plants, though this row is an example of doing it all wrong. Hauled out by rope in late spring – some are visibly ring barked – then reportedly left to lie for weeks with exposed roots and no watering before replanting. They were probably never trimmed to reduce stress. Plants are not that tough.

The best time to relocate large plants is in late autumn or winter and the process should be started six weeks in advance by wrenching the plant. This is cutting the roots on one side at a time every couple of weeks and allowing the plant to rest and recover from the shock. The root mass needs to be left as large as possible and the hole should have been prepared in advance so the plant is moved straight to its new location. That way the roots don’t dry out and the long lead in time allows the plant to start forming new roots.

Chances of a successful transplant are increased if the top is trimmed by maybe a third. If you take out entire branches to shape the tree, it usually looks better than giving a chainsaw haircut all over and it means you can keep a central leader or trunk. Moving in late autumn or winter means the plant is not in full growth so it is less shocked and there is generally enough rain to avoid the need to water over the next months.

If you don’t have the means to do it properly, it can be faster to start with a much smaller plant and to give it optimal conditions to grow rapidly. There is a bit of wasted work in this row down the road from where I live.

First published in the Waikato Times and reprinted here with their permission.

Outdoor Classroom: Moving large plants, a step-by-step guide

???????????????????????????????1) This tree aloe (Aloe thraskii) is in the wrong place and has been for at least fifteen years. Large plants can be moved, but this involves taking a large enough root ball to support the top. It is best carried out between late autumn and early spring so that the plant has a chance to settle in and put out new roots before summer.

??????????????????????2) A large trench needs to be dug out, wide enough for you to stand in. This trench is around 60cm deep. Dig it with straight sides to start with. It allows you to look at the plant’s roots and to get access right underneath the plant. Keep it well out from the plant because you can make the root ball smaller but you can’t make it larger again.
???????????????????????????????3) Standing inside the trench, start digging to excavate right underneath the plant. We wanted to keep the root ball relatively whole to act as an anchor because this plant is very top heavy. Gradually reduce the size of the clump, removing excess dirt, keeping a close eye on the root system. If it has a huge root system, you don’t want to be cutting into it too much. If it has a smaller root system, you can reduce it to a size that is more easily managed. We were surprised at how small the root system was on this plant and they were mainly on the surface.
???????????????????????????????4) Get some heavy plastic, sacking or old weedmat underneath the plant. Do this by rocking the plant to one side and getting the wrapping right underneath it. This usually requires more than one person. Do not let the roots dry out at any stage. With very big plants, the plant can be raised out of the hole by tilting it to one side and backfilling that side. Then rock the plant back and put dirt in on the other side. Repeat the process until you have raised the plant to the level where you can lever it out of the hole more easily. We moved this plant on the front bucket of our baby tractor. You may need to do it by trailer.
???????????????????????????????5) In this process, we had an accident and the heavy top was knocked out so we were forced to cut the the poor aloe back but there is no reason why it should not recover. Get the planting level as close as possible to where was. Measure the depth of the root ball and the depth of the hole before planting by placing a board across the hole and measuring from that. Put the stake or stakes in before the plant so that you do not cause more damage to the roots by driving the stakes through them later. We have gone for one very strong stake and a flexible tie.
???????????????????????????????6) Two years later and the plant is recovering well although the foliage has yet to reach its former spread. It should now be safe to remove the stake.