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At one time or another we will all face the challenge of transplanting our plants in our water garden. It is just a “given” that all plants will grow and soon out grow their home.

The time of the year for transplanting pond plants will depend on the particular plant involved. Spring blooming Iris should be transplanted in early fall, August or September so that the plant will have time to become established before the plant goes dormant. With Iris for example if you wait until spring to transplant you may sacrifice blooms for that year. If you did not get your Iris transplanted before it went dormant, all is not lost. You can wait until after it has bloomed this spring and divide it then or if it is not too pot-bound leave it until the fall. One thing is for certain once you see the sides ripping out in the pot it is time to plan to transplant.

Some water plants have thick fibrous roots, Iris, perennial rice, water cannas to name a few. These can be real buggers to transplant but it is a little easier if the plant has actually split the pot. Take a sharp knife, a utility knife works great, and cut the pot away from the roots. I like to work outside in the grass for the next step because it involves taking a garden hose and washing all the soil away and that can be a messy job. Place the hose with the water running up in the roots and gently wash away all the soil. This makes it easier to see what you are doing.

The next step involves cutting apart the plant. For the fibrous rooted plants you need a very sharp long knife. I have found that a serrated knife works best and at times I have actually brought out a small saw! With Iris you will see fan-shaped divisions and each fan is one new plant if you look closely at the crown (center) of the plant. It is easier if you cut from the top down next to each fan. With some plants you may be able to actually pull the divisions apart but that has not been my experience with Iris. They are tough little plants. Using a sawing motion, saw back and for through the rhizome, making as clean a cut as possible. Gently pull any roots away that are not attached to the rhizome. You will loose some roots but don’t worry about those because new ones will grow back fairly fast.

I prefer to put my Iris in larger 2 and 3 gallon nursery pots because they do grow very fast so make sure that you have plenty of nursery pots on hand before you start the division process.

In the bottom of the pot place a couple sheets of folded newspapers or a piece of burlap. This will keep the soil from going out the holes in the pot and into the pond where it can turn the water murky. The newspaper or burlap will rot away so there is no need to worry about it in the pond.

My soil of choice is garden soil and a mixture of bagged topsoil, equal amounts of the two mixed together. If your garden soil can grow flowers or vegetables it can also grow water plants. When buying the bagged topsoil it is important to make sure that the bag says topsoil and not potting soil. The later is lightweight and it can float out of the pot and into the pond.

Begin by putting a couple of inches of soil in the bottom of the pot while holding the plant upright and bring the level of soil up to about two inches from the crown of the plant. Gently tamp the soil down with your hand as each layer is added to make sure that there are no air pockets. Once the pot is filled with soil make a couple of holes with your fingers near the out side edge of the pot and then push a pond fertilizer tablet in each hole that you made. Next top everything with gravel. Most use pea gravel unless you have large fish. If you have large fish then use larger stones making sure that they are big enough that your largest fish can not pick it up in its mouth.

Once the above steps are completed we like to place the newly potted plant in a bucket and slowly fill the bucket with tap water. Leave the planted pot in the bucket until it has soaked up water. We have found that if we do this first that there is little or no dirt that goes in the pond once we submerge the plant in the pond. Once the plant has soaked up the water from the bucket it can then be added to the pond.

 

(Click on the picture to see larger view)

 severely pot bound water Iris

Picture 1 shows a severely pot bound water Iris after 1 years' growth. Note how the roots have grown out of the drainage holes round and round the outside of the pot. These roots use the ammonia that the fish put in the pond.

roots being cut away from the bottom of the pot

Picture 2 shows the roots being cut away from the bottom of the pot. You can usually use a pair of scissors or pruning shears to accomplish this task.
On some plants you may have to use a saw to cut the roots away!

the roots after they have been cut from the pot.

Picture 3 shows the roots after they have been cut from the pot. P.S. these roots will not grow a new plant so just throw them away, preferably on the compost pile.

Sometimes if the plant is severely pot bound you must squeeze the pot with your hands and roll it on a firm surface to loosen the root from the INSIDE of the pot.

Picture 4 shows how to remove the plant from the pot. Sometimes if the plant is severely pot bound you must squeeze the pot with your hands and roll it on a firm surface to loosen the root from the INSIDE of the pot.

Wow look at those healthy, ammonia eating roots

Picture 5  Wow look at those healthy, ammonia eating roots!!

ake the hose and gently wash all the soil away from the roots

Picture 6 the next step is to take the hose and gently wash all the soil away from the roots. This makes it easier to see what you are doing when you begin separating the plants apart.

all the soil is off the root system.

Picture 7 shows that all the soil is off the root system. You can see by looking at this plant that there are 4 places where this Iris will be divided.

grab each section and gently pull them apart

Picture 8 grab each section and gently pull them apart. Try to make sure that each section has a fair amount of roots. This plant had 4 different divisions from the one plant. In the case of this Iris 2 smaller pieces will be put together in one pot.
The largest piece on the far left was the original plant. The three smaller pieces are babies that developed off of the mother plant.

First you add a small amount of soil to the bottom of the pot. Set the plant in the pot so that the roots are straight up and down and not spiraled in a ball in the pot

Picture 9 shows the plant being placed back in the pot. First you add a small amount of soil to the bottom of the pot. Set the plant in the pot so that the roots are straight up and down and not spiraled in a ball in the pot. Slowly add soil with one hand while using the other hand to hold the plant straight in the pot. Fill the pot with soil leaving 4" of space at the top of the pot.

hand pea gravel to cover the top of the soil.

Picture 10 Have on hand pea gravel to cover the top of the soil. This serves two purposes. One it keeps the soil in the pot and not in the pond. Second it also discourages the fish from "rooting" in the pot and disturbing the plant.  You want at least 2 inches of pea gravel on top of the dirt.

the finished plant. Immediately after transplanting, water.

Picture 11 shows the finished plant. Immediately after transplanting, water.  There are two ways you can do this. You can take a hose and water it from the top. Stop and start the water until you see water running out of the bottom of the drainage holes. Be careful not to flood the pot and wash the gravel out. The second way it to take the pot and submerse it in a large bucket of water for an hour or so.  

Now the plant is ready to go in the pond OR in a liner (hole less container) that is filled with water. In about a month, take a stick and poke it down in the soil and make a hole. Pull the stick out and push a fertilizer pond tablet down in the hole. Be sure to use the required amount of pond plant fertilizer tablets in the pot. Use your fingers to push the soil back over the hole. Fertilize once a month during the active growing season.
 

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