Stop! Saturated winter soil is the worst possible condition for planting or transplanting: ask an expert


The gardening season has been suspended for the winter, but you may still have questions. For answers, check out Ask an Expert, an online question-and-answer tool from Oregon State University’s Extension Service. OSU Extension Teachers and Master Gardeners respond to questions within two business days, usually less. To ask a question, simply go to OSU Extension Website, enter it and indicate the county where you live. Here are some questions asked by other gardeners. What is your?

Q: We are building a terrace and need to move two lilac bushes. They are not very tall yet, we planted them three years ago when they were small so the biggest one is maybe 4 feet tall and the other one is smaller.

I found different answers online; some articles say to move them when dormant in winter, others say to move them right after they bloom. When is the best time to move them and what is the best way to do so so they don’t die? – Multnomah County

A: It turns out that it is possible to transplant an established lilac either after it blooms in the spring or while it is leafless and dormant. But it’s worth knowing that a dormant leafless plant is more likely to thrive after the move than a plant with full leaves, in part because new roots will start growing before the spring heat arrives.

Unfortunately, the ground is currently saturated due to recent heavy rains. Right now the ground is in the worst possible condition for planting or transplanting anything. Thus, you will need to delay transplanting lilacs until the soil is easy to work with.

The guideline for determining when it is best to till the soil is:

Firmly squeeze a handful of soil then, after releasing your grip, gently push the clod of soil with your fingertips; the soil has the right water content if the root ball develops one or more break lines; it may start to break.

Once the lilacs are moved to a sunny site that receives at least six hours of sun per day, do the following:

  • Use wood chips to mulch the soil surface, starting 6 inches from the trunk and extending slightly past the drip line, the imaginary line on the ground just below the branch tips.
  • Water the root zone as needed, gradually increasing frequency and amount as seasonal temperatures rise.
  • Protect lilacs from wind and direct sunlight until the roots become established. (This is essential for the first year or two, possibly longer, and especially during unusual hot spells.)
  • Be aware that once lilacs are established, they will still need to be irrigated periodically – perhaps once a month – during our dry summers. – Jean Natter, OSU Extension Master Gardener diagnostician

Q: I let my Sansevieria trifasciate ‘Hahnii’ (Bird’s Nest Snake Plant) dry out and removed all the dead leaves. However, the rest of the plant is shriveled and seems to need water, but I don’t think that is the case. A way to reverse the rot? – County of Marion

A: Plants that get too much or too little water often look alike because either way they are unable to deliver oxygen and nutrients to the foliage.

It is possible for your plant to recover if the roots are not totally affected by root rot. The plant will need to develop new roots, so keep the soil evenly moist (not too dry or too wet). .

You may already know this, but best practice no longer recommends placing drainage materials (stone, pot shards, etc.) in the pot, as this actually prevents excess moisture from draining out. . I generally recommend using a pot with holes and placing it on a trivet above the drain pan. – Lynne Marie Sullivan, OSU Expansion Master Gardener

Brussels sprouts. File photo NJ Advance Media for

Q: I started my Brussels sprout plants from seed last spring and two of them now have sprouts, but they are very loose and lack structure. I would like to know if I am doing something wrong? – Yamhill County

A: Loose buds can be caused by hot weather when sprouts are forming, too much nitrogen and/or sporadic watering. Most likely, the cause is a combination of these three. As you may recall, we had a lot of hot weather last summer. No wonder Brussels didn’t make heads.

Unfortunately, we have no control over the weather. I include links to several publications for more information in the future.

1. From the University of Illinois, “Watch your Garden Grow: Brussels Sprouts.”

2. “Planting and Harvesting Calendar” created by Oregon Tilth.

3. From Oregon State, “Fall and Winter Vegetable Garden in the Pacific Northwest.” This post is being developed and updated, so check back for the update.

According to the current edition, “Timely planting is another key to a successful fall garden.” Next, they list a formula to help you determine when to start fall vegetables. Now check your seed source to see the days to maturity of the variety you planted. Then count down from the approximate date you want to start harvesting and you’ll know when to plant. – Anna Ashby, OSU Expansion Master Gardener

Q: I’m digging up an old kniphofia and the black roots seem to go too deep for me to handle. If I cut them a foot below the surface, will they come back to haunt me? I want to plant blueberries in this bed. – Clackamas County

A: The underground perennial structures of these plants are bulbs from which roots grow. Once the bulb and foliage are removed, the remaining roots will have no source of nutrients (from photosynthesis), so you should have no problems. – Kris LaMar, OSU Expansion Master Gardener

Ask an expert

CloverOSU Extension Service

Q: My red clover was fine yesterday and this morning it has brownish yellow spots on the top and bottom of the leaves. He is only 1 year old. – Deschutes County

A: Don’t worry. I think your clover just needs a rest. It’s pretty amazing that it lasted so long! They grow from small bulbs and need rest to regenerate. Here is a newsletter that explains the process to put it dormant and then bring it back to life. As a bonus, it details the best growing environment, how to water, and more. – a Cristi Jones, OSU Extension Master Gardener


Comments are closed.