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Transplanting Native Plants

Merv Hodge

Normally if someone suggests transplanting a native plant my reaction is "not a good idea". Many years ago we attempted to transplant plants from private land with the owner's or developer's permission and more often than not we were unsuccessful. It involved taking a large root ball. Unfortunately, it is a pity that we could not have had better results, because most of those areas are now covered with bricks and mortar, lawns, bitumen or concrete and none of the original native flora can be seen.

Some time ago an old friend suggested that I should bare root plants and treat them like cuttings. He sent me bare rooted seedlings and I potted them into potting mix and placed them under mist and most survived.

When I first tried this for myself, I was very careful to avoid damaging the roots. I carried a bucket of water, placed the up- rooted seedlings into it straight away, then potted them up and placed them under mist within minutes. This was mostly successful.

Currently, if I notice interesting seedlings I am a little more casual about it. I usually pluck them out of the ground and carry them without water (only for a couple of minutes) to the potting bin, pot them up, saturate the mix then straight down to the tunnel house and place them into fog (we no longer use mist).

This is usually successful and I have transplanted numerous Grevillea seedlings (a few up to 25 cm high), flannel flower seedlings, Acacia macradenia seedlings and a few Eugenia reinwardtiana seedlings (about 45 cm high), Philotheca difformis seedlings and so on. All of these are self sown in our garden.

I have sent a few grafted plants interstate bare rooted quite successfully. These were wrapped in damp (not wet) newspaper, placed in a suitable plastic bag, sealed and then forwarded by the fastest postal service. If they are received within a few days they survive OK. Of course it is then up to the person at the other end to successfully complete the operation.

Using the same method, I recently received a small number of waratah seedlings from a friend in New South Wales who has a small waratah plantation. These were 15-20 cm high and all survived the whole operation without losing a leaf.

Most members do not have fog or mist facilities, so I tried a simple alternative which is quite successful. Cut the bottom 25mm off a 2 litre plastic milk or soft drink bottle and remove the lid. After potting up the plant, place the bottomless bottle over the plant so that it rests on the potting mix then press it slightly into the mix, (it will fit inside a 140 mm pot). Select a small stake longer than the bottle and depth of the pot combined. This should be inserted through the open top of the bottle right down to the bottom of the pot, leaving a small amount protruding through the open top. This should prevent the bottle from falling off or blowing off.

Place it in a well lit spot out of direct sunlight. Water through the open top and around the sides every couple of days. It should be possible to remove the bottle after a couple of weeks. Leave the plant in the shade for another week or two, depending on the weather.

The bottle will make a humid environment to prevent the plant from drying out and the open top will allow sufficient air exchange for the plant.

The same method can be used for striking cuttings or for grafting plants, but leave the bottle on for about 4 weeks for grafted plants and as long as necessary for cuttings to strike.

If sending bare rooted cuttings interstate from Queensland a fire ant (RIFA) certificate is not necessary, but be aware of current quarantine regulations that are required for state of destination for other pests and diseases. You should also observe current requirements for protected plants, even those obtained from private land.

When trying to transplant a large established native plant, I repeat my first statement "not a good idea", unless it is a fig tree, umbrella tree or cycad, or you employ a professional with the necessary equipment.

From the SGAP Queensland Region "Bulletin", December 2004.

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