Ask the Gardener: Is transplanting a bush really worth the effort?

Ask the Expert Gardening
Mock orange prefers full sun.
Mock orange prefers full sun. adobe stock

What to do this week: June has been hot and dry, so water plantings and trees deeply each week, but don’t worry about lawns, which naturally go dormant until fall. Grow tomatoes in cages so they don’t sprawl. Harvest curling garlic scapes on hard-necked garlic for mild-flavored sautes now, leaving the bulbs and leaves for later. Harvest English and snow peas when they start swelling in the pod, but pick snap peas anytime. Harvest the top several inches of central broccoli heads just before they open, leaving the side branches to produce later. Move houseplants to a shady spot outside for their summer vacation, but keep them watered, along with container gardens and window boxes. Plants in pots dry out faster than those in the ground. Check lilies (not daylilies) for red beetles, which are easily knocked into a jar of soapy water. Snip off any lily leaves with their tiny red eggs. Give annuals, roses, dahlias, and container flowers a weak dose of bloom-boosting fertilizer every month.

Q. I’ve had a mock orange bush (6 feet tall by 3 feet wide) for several years in full sun that often browns out in the summer despite watering. It’s perched on the edge of a slope and did well the first few years. Do you think I should relocate it?

C.H., Haverhill

A. Mock orange is an unfussy and marvelously fragrant white shrub blooming now. It prefers full sun, but also blooms in shade. Branch dieback can occur from oystershell scale. If you see raised areas on the stems with lots of tiny -inch bumps shaped like, well, oyster shells, you might spray the bark with imidacloprid this fall. (Do not spray plants while in bloom, or you may threaten pollinators. And don’t let hired landscape companies do this either. Just ask to reschedule.)

Incidentally, I advise against moving any medium to large shrub. It is always more work than you expect because of the weight of the soil around the rootball. In fact, it’s often a back-breaking two-person job. Most shrubs are so inexpensive and fast-growing that you are better off buying a small new one in a pot for a new location. Buy mock orange (Philadelphus) in bloom in nurseries now, if possible, as cultivars vary in fragrance. That way your nose knows what you’re getting.


Q. I am 75 and have experienced my second knee replacement, but today I will climb a ladder and attempt to prune my lilacs because I can find no one on the South Shore who knows how to prune.

S.B., Bridgewater

A. Do not get on a ladder! I turned 71 last week, and I subscribe to the “one foot’’ rule that both feet should never leave the ground at the same time. You should be able to prune lilacs while standing anyway. They have multiple trunks, so cut one of them off from the base or at a low fork rather than cutting back the tops. This will reinvigorate them. Don’t worry about those spent flowers way out of reach. (No one notices them.) Or try my pruning method, which is to hire one of the many younger people in the neighborhood interested in doing a little outdoor work now and stand there with a mask on telling them in muffled tones exactly what you want them to do.

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