Q: I have a lupine that needs to be moved. Can I do it now, or must I wait until fall?
A: Most perennials can be moved at any time during the growing season, as long as the transfer proceeds quickly. Their roots begin to die as soon as they are exposed to air; the fewest dead roots mean the least stress on the perennial. I recommend digging a new hole before taking the plant out of the old one.
I also think that plenty of water helps the plant to replace the roots inevitably broken during the transfer. I water transplants every day for a week and every other day for the second week. Additionally, a scrap of row cover or shadecloth draped over a perennial for a week will keep its leaves in more humid air and thus not breathing as hard.
Lupines, however, are a difficult case. Digging up a lupine makes clear that it has a woody taproot, and plants with taproots do not take kindly to moving. The root is so damaged in the process that the plant usually does not survive to grow in its new location. Use extra care in digging a lupine, extra shade, and extra patience. An extra prayer might not go amiss.
A group of lupines is more easily kept by allowing a few seeds to develop on the best flower stalks. The seeds will ripen and drop to the ground near the parent plant. At least one seedling should grow the next spring, without any work on the gardener's part. Since all lupines have a short life, the prudent gardener will always leave a few seeds to ripen and fall. They will grow into replacements for aged plants.
Q: Our vegetable garden has not grown as well for the last few years. There is a line of aspens growing about 20 feet away, and we notice something odd going on with the garden soil. When we turned over the soil this spring, we found quantities of white strings like moldy roots. A few inches deep the soil is full of roots. Are the aspen trees the problem? Is the soil ruined? Should we switch to raised beds?
A: It sounds like two separate issues here, one good and one bad. First the good news: the white strings would be mycorrhizal fungi. They are a large group of fungi which live in collaboration with plants, to the benefit of both. You cannot control these fungi, but you can be pleased that they are living in your garden soil. They will do no harm.
Second, the bad news is indeed the aspens. They are providing the mass of roots a few inches below the soil surface. All trees spread their roots widely, but aspens are particularly good at sending out roots to establish an aspen grove. Because they are bigger, the aspens get water and food before your vegetables have a chance at it.
The only real solution is to create a barrier to the aspen roots. Dig out at least eight inches of soil and install landscape cloth below your garden area. Then put back the root-free soil. Or change to raised beds if you prefer, again with landscape cloth at the bottom to divert the aspen root invasion. Put the old garden soil into the raised beds if that is convenient. There is nothing wrong with the soil once it is free of roots.
Are you growing the Italian heirloom zucchini yet? Gardeners who try them all swear that they will never grow a different zucchini again. Fortunately, seed companies have also discovered them. The seeds are more widely available every year. The Italian heirlooms have different names, but all can be recognized by light green ridges running lengthwise down the squash. They actually have flavor and are not wet and soggy.
Be forewarned, though. Italian heirloom zucchini plants are not heavy producers, so set out an extra plant. Just think: no more trips to the neighbors in the dark of the moon, leaving surplus zucchini on front porches.
Master gardener Molly Hackett, whose motto is “Never trust a gardener with clean fingernails,” welcomes your questions. Send them to 1384 Meridian Road, Victor, MT 59875; call 961-4614; or email email@example.com. Please include a garden-related subject line in emails. Hackett writes a twice-monthly Dirty Fingernails opinion piece for the Missoulian.