Pictured is Wendy Walcott's prairie, September 2019
Spring Wildflower Transplanting
By the first really warm day of spring, the moment for transplanting spring ephemerals is over! Wild geranium, may apple, ginger, bloodroot, trillium, even trout lily, all can be moved, if care is taken to get below their roots with the shovel, and if the gardener is willing to work in cold, wet ground. The moment the little sprouts appear under the fallen leaves of your chosen source spot, is the time to spread your wild flowers. The raided spot will have plenty of time to fill in, and the transplants will hardly know they have been moved, if you are careful.
For larger restoration efforts, a hunk of geranium or tiny trillium can be divided into flats of small fiber pots and raised for several months for fall planting.
In the pictures, the project was to move a large Lannon stone flag step and fill the spot with a mix of penn sedge Carex pennsylvanicus, Jacob’s ladder Polemonium reptans, and nearby prairie trillium, Trillium
recurvatem. Sedge is easy to dig up, and its fibrous rhizomes can be pulled apart into small starts. The trick is to get those roots into the ground without burying the young leaves. They travel horizontally so don’t plant them any deeper than they were. The Jacobs ladder is also easy, and a larger clump can be divided into several smaller ones. Again, its basal leaves are floppy, so don’t bury even the tiniest ones. It needs all the sunlight it can get in these early days, but the root itself must be in damp earth right up to the top.
The trillium and other true ephemerals with bulbs are a different challenge. They have a very short season to shoot up from a deeply planted bulb or corm, spread their leaves before the forest closes over them, and make enough sugar for this year’s bloom, and enough starch for next year’s
root. That’s a tall order! In the picture, the larger trillium root is indicated by my thumb. Key is preserving all the rootlets that dangle from it, here hidden by wet mud. Of course if you break the stem, it’s all over for this year, but it may send up a shoot next year, if not yet a flower.
Then make sure you plant it deeply enough. Take note of where the soil line was on the stem. Soil should be loose below the root placement, as well. Support the stem with leaves or forest floor debris. Water gently. A clump of tiny trillium shows that it will come from seed in that area, naturally. These are the best ones to transplant into a larger area. They haven’t burrowed as deep, they are easier to divide without breaking. In the picture, the small ones are to the left of my hand (circled), and I let them stay as a clump for now.
Like all bulbs, if you can find them in the fall, that’s the best time of all to replant them, but finding them is not so easy even if you flag, because the leaves will be completely gone.
*Pictured on right, Trillium propagation bed after 15 years
UW Extension Horticulture Page
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Our wonderful April 4 presentation by Shelly Culea is just the beginning of the story! Last week I attended a River Hills Village meeting of the Committee on the Environment. The featured presenter was a gentleman who had just returned from an independent trip to Mexico’s Monarch Sanctuaries. He encouraged our village board to take the “Monarch Pledge” and to issue a proclamation raising awareness of the Monarch’s need for habitat. Beyond adopting the proclamation he hopes that River Hills will:
Shelly has been working with officials in Port Washington who signed the pledge in February. She was amused that before her presentation their representatives saw milkweed as a noxious weed!
Approximately $4,000,000 has been granted to 10 midwestern states to fund on-the-ground conservation projects. GTGC is on the cutting edge of a very exciting and necessary effort!