Be prepared for the Great Plant Rescue

There are many well known groups that rescue animals such as cats, dogs and horses.

There are many well known groups that rescue animals such as cats, dogs and horses.

Less known or even unheard of are people that rescue plants. Most of plant rescuers are avid gardeners often belonging to local garden clubs.

Plants are rescued from yards where houses are to be demolished, old homesteads or yards that are changing owners.

Rescued plants often end up in individual yards or with non-profit organizations that can’t justify the cost of purchasing the plants.

When rescuing from an abandoned yard do some research and talk to the landowner as they might have given the plants to others.

Older yards are often a treasure trove of heritage perennials, plants that made up the gardens in the early 1900’s.

Older plant varieties are hardy meaning they will thrive in the local climate.

Yards change as people’s abilities, interests, and leisure time change.

Gardening can be physically challenging. When one looses strength or mobility the garden must change to the person’s ability. If it doesn’t, weeds will take over the garden.

For some gardening is a life long hobby, for others it isn’t.

When other activities take up time that was once used for gardening it is time to change the garden into a project that is easier to manage.

This can be accomplished by removing beds and areas that are labor intensive.

Drastic changes in the yard occur when a property is sold.

Do the new owners have the ability or desire to keep up the yard?

If not what does one do with the plants. Are they left for the new owner, moved with the past owner or distributed? What do with the yard can be written into the sales agreement.

When the garden needs to be downsized phone around and find gardeners that will come and remove the plants.

If possible, look at the garden before planning the rescue.

Digging up plants is hard work. Decide how many people are needed and how long it will take. Try to round up enough people so it only takes a couple of hours to do the digging.

Come prepared with shovels, garden forks, containers, clippers, labels or markers and trucks or vehicles that can get dirty.

Sharp sturdy shovels or garden forks make the job easier.

Plant roots often mimic the top growth. Tall plants will have deeper roots.

Be sure to over estimate the number of pots, boxes and bags needed for transporting the plants.

Plants can be moved bare root but they are less likely to dry out in containers that shield them from the sun.

Shears are needed to cut back top growth.

Plants loose roots when they are dug up which means they will not have enough roots to support the top growth.

Cutting it back will help the plant conserve energy. Make sure to leave enough plant to be able to identify the plant later.

Label or name all plants. If the plant is unknown write down where it was found, sun or shade and the plant height.

This information will be useful when it is being replanted.

Look at how the grows before digging.

Plants that cover a massive area and appear to spread by underground roots might be best left behind. Plants that have roots similar to quack grass are great for large areas but will quickly choke out other plants and over run small beds.

Have a place ready to transplant the plants before the rescue begins. This way the plants can be moved from one area and transplanted to another without stressing the plants.

Plan plant rescues for early fall or spring giving plants time to put down roots before temperatures get too hot or cold.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at or

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