Best time to transplant pokeberries?

claireplymouth z6b coastal MAAugust 12, 2007

I have a couple of big pokeberries (Phytolacca americana) that planted themselves too close to the wall of my house. They're so close that they can't stay upright in a heavy rain because all of the growth is on one side. Thus they topple over even though I try to stake them.

I want to move them a few feet out (I love to see the flowers and berries out my kitchen window).

When is the best, or a reasonable time to transplant them? Now? Fall? Next spring?

I tried moving a small one a few weeks ago and it still looks like wilted spinach, although not dead.

My first thought is to wait until the berries ripen and drop (or get eaten), and then move the plants, but I'm worried that the root won't survive the winter if it doesn't have time to reestablish itself.

Pokeberries don't act like shrubs - they're very big herbs that die down in the winter. I don't know how to deal with very big herbs that die down in the winter.

Any thoughts?



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You may want to reconsider trying to move such a large plant.
The large tap-root is probably several feet in length and digging it up without damage is almost impossible.
Try starting some new one's from seed in the new location or as you have done, transplant some small seedlings, the smaller they are, the better chance of success.
They are a weed in my garden, due to a large berry-consuming bird population and my woodlands, even though I try to remove the flowers before any seed are formed. The birds apparently are feeding on them elsewhere and come here to deposit their "gifts".

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 7:20PM
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Sub-script....Forgot to caution about handling the plants and seed. I'm sure you are aware that all parts of the plant are toxic to humans. Even though the tender new foliage is consumed by a number of people, it must be carefully prepared to remove the toxins. (Referred to by the colloquial term "Pokesallat" and the liquid as, "Potlikker").

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 7:38PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Well, I have to dig them up anyway - in a heavy rain the water sheets off the roof and knocks them over so they sprawl all over the path, and the branches break when I try to stand them up. If it's going to be a very rough move, I'll put them at the edge of the woods where they can recover out of sight. There's the beginning of a pokeberry grove over there already.

I know they're toxic, although I haven't really worried about skin contact - I've never gotten an itch or a rash from touching them.

Right now they're shoulder to shoulder with a few bronze fennels which are in bloom. Flat yellow flowerheads next to developing purple seeds, and lots of happy beneficial insects flitting about.

Actually, the bronze fennel is another huge herb that dies down in the winter...

It's just a question of when I should do the move.

Thanks for the response, Rb.


    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 8:34PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Have you considered staking them or somehow attaching their stalks to the side of the house?

I wouldn't dig them up now. They sound way too large. I transplanted two small ones in the Spring, that were about a foot tall. They wilted a bit, but recovered, however they never reached anywhere their full potential size after transplanting.

They are a very aggressive native, and I have zillions of them in the yard. I would probably get rid of most except the birds love them. I plan to harvest clumps of the ripe berries and freeze them, then put them out in the feeder in the middle of the winter so the birds get a berry treat in January!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2007 at 3:54PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA


I tried a quick, flimsy staking after the last rain storm and have started looking for big, strong stakes. I even thought of setting up an espalier rig on the wall.

It would amuse me to have a pokeberry espalier, but that doesn't seem appropriate for a plant that normally forms a spreading, rounded, multistalk structure.

Last fall I decided to transplant them this spring, but I never got around to it - after all, they were just tiny sprouts and I focused on other things until it was too late.

That's a nice idea to freeze the berries - I may do that too.


    Bookmark   August 13, 2007 at 7:55PM
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joepyeweed(5b IL)

I've never planted pokeweed, though I have a few plants. It tends to plant itself.

What you may want to do is to harvest the berries when ripe, and place them in a better location. And then you can try and transplant the rest of the plant.

Its quite prolific and reseeds readily, so if your transplant doesn't make it, the seeds probably will.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2007 at 8:53AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA


Plant itself it does! I might try to harvest the berries and plant some, although there are many, many little seedlings around that should be easy to transplant.

I'm in the process of extending a bluestone path running past the big pokeberries, and I'm reconsidering whether some of them should be there at all (just not much room).

The bottom line is that I like these particular big old plants and I don't want to kill them unnecessarily. I just glanced over and the sun is shining on the berries - really pretty with red stems and bright green leaves.

But they can't stay where they are without massive and unsightly staking. So move them I will, probably in the spring (this time for sure).

Thanks for all the responses.


    Bookmark   August 15, 2007 at 10:42AM
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ladyslppr(z6 PA)

You might try simply preparing the ground in the new location for planting, and waiting for Pokeberrys to appear in the spring. A seedling in a good location can be a 4 foot plant in a simgle year, and a giant the year after that.

I have moved large pokeberries in the spring, before the new growth appears. If I dig deeply enough to get a fair amount of root, and if I transplant early enough, I can have nice large plants the same year. If I wait until growth has gotten more than a foot tall, I have to cut the growth back and the plant is not as large in the first year and the ones transplanted before growth started. Probably a fall transplant - after growth has died back - would work equally well.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2007 at 9:56PM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Thanks, ladyslppr, for sharing your experience!

I had wondered about fall transplanting but was hesitant - it makes sense to wait until they're dormant and then dig them up. These are 7 to 8 ft tall; I hope the taproot isn't correspondingly deep!

I may try one this fall and, if it goes well, move the other too. If it doesn't go well I'll wait until spring for the second move.

I fed the cat this morning and then stood for a while looking out the kitchen window, as usual. A catbird was perched a few feet away on the pokeberry, probably nibbling at the fruit, or maybe a bug on the fruit (I didn't have my glasses on, yet).


    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 10:52AM
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