Winter Gardening

Moving plants – Good Chore for Winter

The winter months of January, February, and March can be great months for working outside for those of us who are not inundated with snow or frozen ground for long periods of time.

Although here in Virginia temperatures can drop into the teens at night and the 20s and 30s in the daytime, it’s not the norm.

This winter, except for the severe cold spell in December, has been mild.  Daytime temperatures have mainly stayed in the 40s and 50s. Perfect for working outside – at least for me.

Exceptions for Going Outside Everyday

It’s my habit to work some outside everyday unless there’s ice on ground or it’s raining hard or below freezing.  Don’t even mind working in light rain most of the time. The exception would be if my clothes get soaked through and I get too cold.

Of course, as with most everything you could mention, I always think of Bill when it starts raining while outdoors.  If we were working together when it started raining he’d say (much to my disappointment),  “Theresa, I’m not working in the rain.”.

3 Things That Finally Made the Priority List

In addition to continuing efforts to close borders and finish preparing for Spring planting, I’m working on 3 things that have need to be done for some time.

  • Taking up an almost decade old ornamental grass
  • Removing a Lilac tree
  • Moving a rose bush 

Removing a Large ornamental grass 

When I planted this grass by my front porch almost decade ago I thought it would look good.  Although it didn’t look horrible, it didn’t look that good either.  Much too big and something not worth the effort anymore.

The task was put off last year because I knew how hard it would be for me and other things needed the priority.

Made it my first winter task this year since it would be one of the hardest. Large ornamental grasses hug the soil and can take a lot of effort to get up.  

A man’s muscles are more perfectly suited for this task, but anyone can do it if you’re willing to make the effort.  I worked on it about 30 to 45 minutes each day until I got it up.

Procedure for Digging Up the Ornamental Grass

  • Cut it down as close to ground level as possible. (The cuttings were used for mulch in that border.)
  • Use a transplant spade  (great for deep-rooted shrubs and perennials)
  • Place spade (a/k/a transplant shovel) close to base and push with your foot to sink it into the soil
  • Pull back on the handle to loosen the roots from the soil (It won’t “give” much at first.)
  • Continue around the base of the grass several times.
  • Use a regular shovel if you find it necessary (I did)  to move soil so you can better get to the deep roots.
  • Repeat until finally the roots detach from the soil

My best guess for the weight of the root ball was at least 100 pounds.  Had to roll it to move it.

You Can Use the Root Ball

It will eventually make great organic material I can use.  Turned upside down in an out of the way place it can sit and dry out. 

How long it takes depends on the weather. It’ll dry faster in hot weather. The roots will die.

As it dries I can pull it apart little by little. The dry pieces can be added to the cold compost pile. Or thrown  in garden paths to decay.

Picture of a transplant spade below

Transplant spade


The shape of the blade is intended to penetrate the soil as you work your way around the plant.

Eventually the roots will be loosened from the soil and the plant can be removed.

Removing the Lilac Tree

The lilac tree was in the border that runs along the white fence parallel to my driveway.

It had become brittle and really needed to be removed years ago. It didn’t make the priority list until this year.

I used the transplant spade and basically the same procedure used for the grass.

A Warning about Pulling on Roots

The temptation here is to pull on the root when it doesn’t come up easily.

In case you’re new to digging roots etc. be warned they can break when you least expect it. 

Effort applied when pulling can cause you to fall backwards with momentum that can cause injury. It can be serious depending on your position, what’s around you, or even how hard the ground is. (I learned this the hard way many years ago.) 

Transplanting Rosebushes

Winter can be a good time to move rosebushes since they’re dormant and less likely to be disturbed than one that is actively growing.

The rose being moved was in the back of the property where I’m closing a border.  Its new home will be where the lilac tree was. Used the transplant spade to remove it.    Knocked the dirt off and moved it to its new location.

It’s an old fashioned climber whose name I’ve forgotten. I doubt that it’ll have enough room to reach full potential, but it’s the only place available. Even when not allowed to climb the hot pink double blooms are prolific, beautiful, and fill the air with a wonderful fragrance.

Final Thoughts

If weather allows use the winter months to get caught up on some of the harder tasks you plan to do this year.

PS – Be sure to read Jim’s comments below the post for additional procedures.


All content including photos is copyright by All Rights Reserved.


  • That was hard work, Theresa, to remove the ornamental grass. Those roots are tenacious! Thankfully I have never planted any my home. But one step daughter has the stuff. I observed it over a few years and decided “no, thank you.”

    And, yes, I have fallen on my butt multiple times when a root gave way, not only when I was pulling on it, but also when the root was suddenly cut by the spade. This is the one time when being well-padded helps.

    You are wise to get these jobs done while the temperatures are in the 40s and 50s.


  • Thank you Susan for recognizing that it can be hard work taking out an ornamental grass. That’s why I did it little by little — so it wouldn’t be as hard.

    Ornamental grasses can be wonderful if you choose the right variety. I was foolish enough at the time to experiment with a new variety. And even had I planted my tried and true Yaku-Jima- Japanese Silver Grass — it was a bad place to put a large ornamental grass.

    Yaku-Jima-Japanese- Silver-Grass, it’s just about the most beautiful and carefree of the ornamental grasses. And adds a lot of charm if used in the right places. It takes until the third year to mature — so if the gardener decides before then that they don’t want it — it’s not as much work to remove as a mature plant.

    I couldn’t help but laugh when I read that you too have fallen on your butt multiple times. Of course, it’s only funny when we manage not to hurt ourselves.

    And yes, I love these temperatures.
    Thanks for adding you input Susan.

  • Hello Theresa,

    I have moved many a shrubs, trees and rose bushes over the years. I once move a couple crabapple trees and had to use my neighbors tractor to pick them up after I wrapped the rootball with burlap and put some chains around it to lift. The hole was about 5′ across and 2-1/2′ deep.
    Now to the grasses. Two of the procedures I have used in addition to yours is to really saturate the ground which makes the digging and chopping easier. I also use my axe and cut completely through the grass before I even dig making it possible to take out a small section at time. Sometimes quartering is enough and other times depending on the size I may make more cuts. Reminds me of cutting a pan cake into serving sections.
    All the Best! Enjoyed hearing from you. Ground will be frozen here for awhile yet but have been out trimming up a few oak trees. jim

  • Great input Jim.
    And WOW! about those crabapple trees. Good job!

    And yes, it’s definitely easier to get plants up when the ground is moist.
    I have no way to do that so I choose my times when Nature has wet the ground for me. That was the case with this large grass I just took out.
    I never could have gotten the spade in the ground during dry times.

    Regarding your following comments : “use my axe and cut completely through the grass before I even dig making it possible to take out a small section at time. Sometimes quartering is enough and other times depending on the size I may make more cuts. Reminds me of cutting a pan cake into serving sections.”

    For anyone physically able to do this – it’s a good way. I’ve seen Bill do this many times.
    I consider myself strong – especially for an 80 year old woman – but
    I’m not quite strong enough to manage this particular method. Would take me way too long AND I’ve never been able to wield an axe like Bill could.

    For you men (and women who are stronger than I am) – Jim’s method is something to consider. If you’re new to this “axe wielding” game – and have no experience — please take every safety precaution. I feel sure gardeners experienced in this already do so.

    I appreciate your adding this additional information, Jim. I was only focusing on the way I did things — and that was unfair to others who
    can easily handle the techniques you added. Really appreciate your taking the time to do it.

    And speaking of trimming trees, I have to trim my two year old pear tree before it gets too big for me to reach the top.
    I’ll be thinking of you Jim, trimming your trees, as I trim this one.


  • Enjoy your posts, Theresa! Blinked a bit when you called the shovel a “transplant” shovel. Although in hindsight, that’s what they’re for — e.g., to transplant plants! Grew up working after school and on weekends in a nursery in the southwest part of D-FW ‘plex. We called these shovels “sharpshooters”! Owner had plot of ground on opposite side of town where he grew his stock shrubs. And when we weren’t landscaping houses somewhere, often we were across town “balling up” shrubs (and sometimes small trees) from this stock property. Using the ol’ sharpshooters! You can cut roots both around and up under a shrub, moving in a circular motion ’til you finally get its main root up; and then pry it along with its “root-ball” up out of the ground with a lift of the sharpshooter blade. Then we’d set it atop a spread-out piece of old feed-sack, pin it up nicely with long, thin nails to hold the sack’s root-ball intact; and carry it back to the nursery to go into the woodchip stalls for display. I’m almost 80 now and I wouldn’t trade my plant nursery “growing-up” days for anything. Kept me with pocket change for my dates, too. Thanks for “listening.”

  • Dan, your comments were a joy to read! My pleasure indeed.
    Thanks for taking time to reminisce for our benefit.
    You and I grew up in some of the best of times.
    Wishing you a great season!

  • Hiya Theresa!

    I’ve managed to travel rapidly backwards several times now while pulling on roots. Like to think I’m smart enough to not do it again, but only time will tell.

    Always wondered about those long, skinny bladed shovels. Now I know what they’re for!

    I love being able to work outside in the winter months. I’m also in zone 7, so our weather is like yours. It’s gotta be at least 40 degrees before I’ll go out and work tho. Don’t like cold much. But being able to do heavy work without sweating like crazy is a wonderful thing.

    This winters main project is replacing the garden fence. The old chicken wire is finally too far gone for any more patches. Over the summer I bartered with a neighbor for some old chain link fence he was throwing on his junk pile. There are quite a few places where something was growing through the fence and rather than cut it, he strong armed it and bent the wire all up. But the beauty of chain link is you can easily take it apart, set the mangled wire aside (to use for tying the fence to posts) and reweave the good parts together to form a decent bundle of fence. Managed to reclaim over 40 feet of 6 foot tall fence for the east fence line and have most of it up. Still have the short run after the gate to do. Also reclaiming about 13 feet of 5 foot fence, plus several smaller panels that may end up as trellises. The entire east fence can be used for cucumbers, beans and such this year. I’ll have to watch the shade it makes, but don’t think it will be a problem. Will still have to buy a bundle of welded wire fence for the rest of the garden but have managed to save some money and install some fence that will last for years and years for just a bit of labor….. in cool weather.

    Have multiple cleanup projects going on as well where little trees and vines have to be dug out and flower beds established this spring. There’s also a holly bush near the house I want to dig out and move. Wanted to do it last year, but nature had other plans for me, (as in cleaning up tree limbs everywhere after an ice storm and replacing the section of fence that got smashed). Hopefully will get it done this year, but I don’t get things done as fast as I used to, so we’ll see.

    Between your “Never Underestimate the Power of a Little” principle and the mild winters here in western Kentucky, things are slowly but surely shaping up around here. Thanks for all the good things I learn from you.

    Take care and God bless,

  • Perhaps the pink rose is a Constance Spry. We have one which was planted over 50-years ago by the builders/original owners of our home, which they built in 1939. We also have a Cecile Brunner. Both are climbing roses, and both have been moved within our yard, during late winter.

    We have several varieties of Pampas Grasses, with long stripes and horizontal stripes, as well as some plain. …and yes, we have to dig and separate them every three years or so as they just keep on expanding. What start off as a small ‘cute’ plant, grow to be huge and as much as 5′ in diameter.

    When we dig and separate them into quarters, leaving one quarter to replant, we can hear doors locking up as down the street as we carry them up our driveway toward the street! (much like zucchini in the summer).

    Our secret to digging is similar to yours, but in this modern age we use a saws-all with a long blade to separate, then we use a spade, like yours, to dig.

    We too have considered other options to digging. One we prefer is to throw loose change daily into a tray on our bedroom counter and ‘reward’ our grand-kids for ‘helping out’!

    Life is good!

    All the very best to you Theresa. Don’t let up as we so enjoy your articles!

    Graham and Ednita
    Springfield, Illinois

  • Harold, I laughed outloud when I read your first sentence. And I too hope I’m smart enough to not do it again!

    Like you, I like at least 40º for working out. However I will venture out anyway when it’s in the 30s if I really need to get the job done. Once I start working it’s not too bad. If the wind is strong – that’s a different story!

    I think it’s great you were able to salvage that fence AND that you know what to do with it after you salvage it! Bill would know. Not me.

    It thrills me that you and so many others have benefited from my “Never Underestimate the Power of a Little” post.
    That principle has motivated me through many a set back. And it’s amazing how much one can get accomplished that way.

    Always good knowing you are benefiting from the work I do for TMG, Harold.
    Thanks for adding to the post.

  • Good to hear from you Graham (and Ednita),

    I love it that you have a rose planted over 50 years ago on your property! And what is just as wonderful is that you know the name of it.
    Hope you will keep it where generations to follow will also know its name.

    Since I wrote about the rose, I was able to email my friend who gave me the rose and ask what the official name was. (She’s a Rosarian and I did seven articles about her and her roses on TMG in 2010. Here’s a link to the first one Anyone who wants to read them all can search under the category of roses on the home page of TMG and all seven will show. )

    The official name is ROSARIUM UETERSEN.

    I then looked online briefly and saw that it was introduced in 1977 — I thought it was much older. (1977 doesn’t seem too old to me..)
    I saw online that it’s also known as Seminole Wind which is much easier to remember.

    Also noticed there is a famous rose garden in Germany that is named Rosarium Uetersen.

    The color noted online is coral pink. That is definitely more accurate than just pink. The blooms are absolutely vibrant when they first open and fade into a regular pink (like in my photo) after a few days. Still spectacular.

    The Yaku-Jima-Japanese- Silver-Grass, which I mentioned in my reply to Susan’s comment, does not keep enlarging after year 3. It stays the same after that, which I consider one of its attributes along with not seeding.

    I was very surprised that you give away (or throw away?) the root balls you dig up. I try not to allow any organic material to leave my property. Just too valuable. I feel bad when huge limbs have to hauled away.
    (No chipper.)

    I’m not in the modern age. I love hand tools that are powered by me rather than something I don’t know how to deal with if breaks down or the power goes out. Also I find them extremely easy to use and no where near as heavy as most power tools.

    In a future post I’ll tell of my new way to cut ornamental grasses that make cutting them even easier. It’s a tool I had but didn’t use for cutting the ornamentals. Now I use it along with the hand held shears.
    So EASY!

    Putting the grand-kids on the task is a super easy idea, Graham.
    : – )

    Wishing you and Ednita a fantastic growing season this year!

  • Hi Theresa,
    I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed reading this article and all the comments you received so far! All very interesting and practical information I’ll keep in mind.
    I also found very useful to know how you deal with the root ball afterward.
    We recently bought one of those ‘transplant’ spades – it really helped when I had to dig out by myself a few unwanted palms, it really made it so easy compared to the normal spade.
    Thank you also for the information about the rose 🙂

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