(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on February 29, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please keep in mind that authors of previously published articles may not be able to respond to your questions.)
When preparing your home to put on the market, be sure to consider your outdoor assets. We'd all like to believe that the new owners will be as crazy about our ideas of plants and landscaping as we are. The sad truth is that 90% of home buyers will rip out what we've spent years nurturing. Don't be fooled by gushing assurances that the buyers "are thrilled with the gardens." And whatever you do, don't drive by the house six months after they've moved in.
Trust me. Been there, done that. Cases in point: an 80-year-old rhododendron that was the talk of the town every spring? Chopped down a week after we moved. Ten Japanese hollies planted to replace scraggly privet-all dug up and replaced with scraggly privet. The list is longer, but you get the picture.
First, determine what specimens could be moved. Some plant materials, such as peonies, absolutely do not like to be disturbed, and will repay you by refusing to bloom or thrive for a long time. Mature shrubs and trees are better left where they are. Trees especially have a difficult time recovering from the assault on their tap roots. I was unable to move a beautiful five-year-old Japanese maple; to do so would have destroyed it.
Another consideration will be where you live, and to what region you are moving. If you live in the Midwest or Northeast and your sale closes in March, take a deep breath and simply plan to purchase replacements for the new home. If you live in more temperate climates, your plants may be more forgiving about being uprooted.
Consider the time and energy required to transplant a great number of specimens, especially in conjunction with moving house. Are you trying to keep common plants that can be easily replaced at minimal cost? Daylilies, iris, cannas, and the like are always available. Bulbs and tubers are easy to replace and often produce better than old ones.
Perhaps you have several plants that are unique, or have deep sentimental value. Those would be the ones to consider moving, if it is possible. My mother's last Christmas tree was a tiny Alberta spruce in a pot. After she passed away, I planted it. Then moved, taking it with me. And planted it again. Then moved again, digging the poor thing up and transplanting it once again. Each time was more difficult, but the small tree continued to grow and remain a nostalgic reminder of one last Christmas. It has grown from a twelve-inch sapling to almost 3 feet now; I don't think I would try to move it again (if I could stand to even think about moving again).
When you've decided what you will take with you, be specific on the real estate listing agreement about which plantings are not included in the sale. As long as you identify them on paper and physically mark them (or their locations), you won't have to worry about a dispute.
Once you've sold the house, make a detailed plan about timing, as well as where you'll plant everything at the new address. When moving to another state, be sure to find out ahead of time if that state has restrictions on bringing in plant materials from other regions. Agricultural areas such as California, Florida, and Washington do have restrictions, so be prepared rather than disappointed.
Try to leave your plants in the ground until just before the moving van arrives. With the exception of bare-root varieties, plants should only be out of the ground for a short time. Be sure to protect them from any severe weather while they are in transition. If possible, visit your new home and prepare the beds, or make an area in which to heel-in the plants until you can put them in permanently.
One last thought: be sure to fill holes and smooth any area in the garden where you removed something. Whatever garden you leave behind should reflect your love and care.