Moving Trees, Cannas & Sweet Peas

Moving a deciduous tree or shrub and whether to root prune or not; care of Canna lilies over winter; plus four new flowers for 2004.
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

October 19, 2003

Above, ‘Envy’ pansy and ‘Sugar n Spice’ sweet pea; below ‘Peppermint Candy’ phlox and ‘Shooting Stars’ Nemesia. Photos courtesy Thompson & Morgan.

While not filled to over brimming, the e-mail Inbox had a couple of good questions this past week. For example, Lorne McDonald of Mississauga wrote: “I listened to your radio message a couple of weeks ago regarding transplanting trees/bushes, whereby you recommended doing it immediately following the first hard frost. I have an Eastern Redbud to move that was only planted about 15-16 months ago. It is about 6 ft. high and probably about the same across. I was wondering whether, using a sharp spade, I should cut down now in the circle I plan to dig to transplant it so that if I cut through root ends, they will have some time to form new root growth before I actually do the transplanting, and increase the new root growth before the onset of winter. To give you an idea of my climate zone, I live in Mississauga. Unfortunately, I can't always listen to your radio broadcast, so would appreciate a reply via e-mail.”

Lorne’ idea is a good one, but it’s really only practical if he can put off the transplanting until next spring. The recommended regimen is to root prune a tree or shrub six months before you’re going to move/transplant it. Now, this is generally for trees/shrubs that have been growing in one location for a number of years. The fact that Lorne’s eastern redbud has only been place for 16 months leads me to say that he might well do the transplanting early next spring without any root pruning.

I have had personal experience with planting a containerized eastern redbud in fall and had reasonable results even after a fairly heavy winter. The tree (a [Cercis canadensis] ‘Forest Pansy’ redbud that has reddish foliage all summer) survived but did lose one major branch. Since then it has grown well with no problems in the protected Toronto garden. However, if Lorne has the option of fall or spring transplanting, I would suggest he wait until very early spring, and since he is willing to do it, root pruning it now, by pushing a sharp spade down in a 75 cm (30”) diameter circle certainly won’t hurt!

The idea with root pruning of this type is that when he starts to dig the tree, in the following season, it is dug with a soil ball of slightly larger diameter than was done with the root pruning. In this case, say a diameter of 90-100 cm (36-40”).

Another question this week came from old friend Joan Bailey, of Bailey’s Farm and Country Market in Cambells Cross (near Victoria) Ontario. She said, “Daughter Tammy planted a lot of cannas this year, and they were beautiful. The tops got zapped with frost and turned brown of course. Do we dig them up and hang the bulbs, or do we just leave them in the ground. We have never grown them before, and would really like them for next year as they did so well in the back yard.”

My response was: “If the tops are totally frosted on the Cannas, you should dig them carefully with a spade or garden fork and then cut the tops off with a sharp knife, just 4-5 cm above the roots. If a bit of soil remains attached to the roots that's fine, don't remove it. They are best stored in plant flats so that one doesn't touch the other, and so that air can circulate between the flats if they are on top of one another. Cool storage (50 - 80 Celsius) is likely best. They do not need light. Ideally they should be inspected every week or two to make sure they aren't either drying out entirely (too dry in storage area) or beginning to rot (too wet in storage area). The basement is usually a good spot provided it's not too hot.

By mid February, or maybe early that month, you should get them out and plant them either in large pots, or deeper flats, and put them in a warm, bright area and begin watering them. Generally each clump can be hand broken into two or three pieces at planting, but each piece must have at least one or two growth buds on it. At first, be careful not to keep them too wet or they will start to rot. Once they make roots you can increase the water, and apply a soluble fertilizer (20-20-20). Come mid March or so, maybe after another transplanting into individual pots for each piece, they can be gradually moved or set outside on warm, sunny days. But if there is any threat of frost, they need to come in that night or on cold days. They should not be planted out until all danger of frost has passed; say around June 1 there. You'll find they multiply rapidly.”

The balance of this week’s editorial has to do with new varieties. It seems to me that most gardeners are always keen to try new plants--particularly new annuals introduced by such organizations as All-America Selections.

AAS is not the only source of new varieties and cultivars. Some seed companies may obtain exclusive distribution of certain new varieties and decide to market them as soon as there is enough seed available rather than waiting another year for the new item to go through the year-long testing to which AAS nominees are subjected.

Such is always the case with major seed companies such as the British firm, Thompson & Morgan (T&M). Well, perhaps earlier than ever, the T&M catalogue arrived this past week and there are several new items worthy of mention, even this early. But first, for those of you who are accustomed to dealing with T&M, in the past in addition to having to pay for everything in U.S. dollars, T&M orders from most Canadians were subject to customs delays and assessed GST amounts as well as a GST collection fee of $5.

This year T&M are announcing in their catalogue that all orders from Canada will be sent to Canada in bulk once per week for mailing to customers from a Canadian base, thus saving Canadian customers not only customs delays, but also the assessed charges and $5 fee. The catalogue still lists everything in U.S. dollars, and the company prefers Canadians to pay in U.S. dollars (US money order or Canadian bank cheque drawn on a US dollar account) but says they will accept payment in Canadian dollars provided the US dollar amount is multiplied by 1.5, which they note was the current exchange rate at press time.

As to new cultivars, my friend Val Wright thought she had discovered something new in a gardening column in a British paper and called on Thursday to tell me about the new green pansies, called ‘Envy” (Viola x wittrockiana ‘Envy’). I told her I had already circled them in the new T&M 2004 catalogue! They sell for $2.99 for 20 seeds. There is a photo accompanying the listing and the colour is obviously variable but somewhat olive green. They clearly state that weather conditions “may provide you with even more unique (their wording not mine, and they’re British!) shades gently washed in blue and yellow.” I would add that soil conditions--particularly acidity/alkalinity may also have an effect.

T&M’s 2004 flower of the year is a new “hanging basket sweet pea.” Now, dwarf sweet peas are nothing new. Growing them in Canada has not always been easy; at least until Neville Holmes, over two decades ago, mastered the technique, and even wrote a little information pamphlet for the then Civic Garden Centre. Neville, in addition to the popular tall-growing ones, also grew dwarfs such as ‘Bijou’ and ‘Snoopea’, which were ideal for containers and baskets. Now, T&M has a brand new introduction: ‘Sugar n Spice’ (Lathyrus odoratus ‘Sugar n Spice’. The company say this new one was bred specially for use in baskets, and that it is every bit as fragrant as the taller cousins. It has an extensive colour range including bi-colours, and the plants produce flowers all along the short stems and from each leaf node. T&M say the plants are naturally neat and compact and form balls of rich colour; and there is no need for pinching.

Two other new flowers exclusive to T&M this year are: nemesia ‘Shooting Stars’ (Nemesia cheiranthus ‘Shooting Stars’) and a new phlox, ‘Peppermint Candy’ (Phlox hybrida ‘Peppermint Candy’). The phlox is also recommended for containers. Its flowers are striped red and green on a white background and the plants grow only to a height of 15-20 cm (6-8”). And finally, the Nemesia. This one has unusual, exotic flowers that are yellow, each with four small white spurs pointing up. The flowers remind me most of the glory pea (Clianthus) except they are slightly smaller and have the spurs. The plants grow to 30 cm (1’), flower from summer through fall, and the flowers have a coconut scent.

There are lot of other new items and hundreds of tried and true, unusual flowers and vegetables too. You may obtain their catalogue by calling: 1-800-274-7333, or order on the Web at:


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