Grit Blogs > Nature and Gardening at the Edge

Wild Transplants

Minnie Hatz headshotWhile the pastures are still brown, I look for cacti that I can transplant to my rock garden. While cacti grow wild here, it is only semi-arid, so pasture grass grows also, and somehow every few years there are cacti that appear in the grass. I usually take some small stakes that I can mark the location of the evergreen cacti among the winter dry grass. When it is warm enough to transplant, I return with a bucket, spade and heavy gloves. The cacti do not root deeply, but of course must be handled with care.

I try to locate the transplants in areas where I have rock and landscape cloth. Ever try to weed a cacti patch? I have a neighbor who likes to use native plants in her landscaping as well. She has transplanted various “weeds” that grow along the adjacent irrigation ditch to her flowerbeds.

 Transplanted barrel cacti 

Some things to keep in mind when looking for “wild” flowers to transplant; It is illegal to dig up plants and trees from public land. Likewise be sure private property owners agree to let you dig up plants. Most people don’t mind getting rid of cacti but it is good policy to ask. Transplant wild plants in the spring or fall. If you can’t get it done in the spring, don’t do it in the summer. Just like nursery stock, plants struggle greatly in the summer heat and dryness. Also many plants are in the midst of flowering or seeding and the resources that could go into growing new roots are not available. Study what you are transplanting. Is it a perennial or an annual? Is it attractive most of the year? Does it need any special care?

If you admire water lilies, for example, know what you are getting into.  They grow in water over a foot deep. You may need waders or even a small boat to get them. Once you have them you need to provide a similar habitat for them to grow. Water lilies present another challenge. While they are perennials, they need some special care for wintering over. This is a challenge for me, so I buy from the nursery every few years!

 Water Lilies 

Another tempting transplant is wild asparagus. If you like asparagus, you may know that spring is the time to cut off the new shoots for a tasty spring dish. Since the shoots are forced to regrow repeatedly, this may not be an ideal time to transplant. I have to say that this challenge has also eluded me and I am planning on buying some from the nursery.

I notice some nurseries now sell “Dog Fennel” which was always considered a weed in my youth. If you don’t feel like searching out wild plants, nurseries are offering more and more options it appears. Whether you buy from a nursery or take a long walk with a shovel and bucket, wild species can add another dimension to your garden or landscape. If the plant grows wild in your area, it should do well when transplanted to your lawn or garden.

Think ahead where you want to place it and prepare a spot. Again, if you look at the plant and where it is thriving in the wild, you have a good idea of where it likes to grow and how big it gets. In the case of cacti and asparagus, they seem to do well in poor sandy soil…no preparation required in most cases, just planning. The water lilies are at the other end of the scale and a small pond will be required to keep them going. Woodland plants may require a shady area and lots of peat or other soil enrichments to survive transplanting.

While it takes some effort to transplant wild plants, it gives a look, or taste, of nature to your own little corner of the world and a sense of satisfaction that you can create the environment that they thrive in.

nebraska dave
4/10/2012 11:11:56 PM

Minnie, free plants are always good. Right? In most cases they are. I like your idea of xeriscaping by using native plants. I've had two experiences with using native plants for flower beds. One was the wild strawberry. I thought somehow a neighbor's strawberry plant had made it to my yard. I transplanted it to a raised garden bed and was very proud of my free plant. By the end of the summer those plants had taken over the garden bed and decided to expand into the yard. My next find was a wild African violet. I did the same thing. I transplanted a few violets from the yard into a flower bed. They also escaped back into the lawn. I guess there's a reason why those plants do so well out in the wild. I am not trying to discourage anyone from finding wild plants to grow in there flower beds but just a word of caution about being sure you know what you are bringing into your landscape. Have a great wild plant day.