This section is from the book "The Gardener V3", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
This appears to be a task of difficulty to many, considered a hazardous undertaking, and in numerous cases as certain death to the plants. I have beard it remarked times almost without number, that the lifting of a large plant or plants would place their life in jeopardy; therefore the Camellia is looked upon as a plant not to be touched in the way of lifting, after having been planted out. I can point to cases where death has been the result of lifting, and the notion has afterwards been entertained that the plants might as well die for the want of lifting as be killed by removal. It should be considered, however, whether this work was performed at the proper time, or was intrusted to competent hands. Plants lift better out of some borders than others. If the soil be light, the roots soon wander away, and cannot be lifted with good balls; but if the soil be of a heavier nature, and made firm round the plants, the roots are nearer home and lift well.
I know of large plants which have been almost periodically lifted for a long time, and in every case with good results - never losing a crop of flowers. In some cases the plants were lifted because they grew too luxuriantly in their new border, after being confined to pots and tubs; in other cases, to give room to Palms, Tree-Perns, Dracaenas, Yuccas, etc. I have been engaged in lifting large plants of Cibotium princeps, with a spread of fronds of nearly twenty feet; Dicksonia antarctica and D. squamosa, ten feet over, which are now nearly twenty feet; as well as Palms, Dracaenas of the Veitchii type, and others, - and in every case with satisfactory results. Camellias can be lifted as safely and satisfactorily as a Cupressus or a Portugal Laurel, provided the work is executed carefully by persons competent to do it, and at the proper season. In such cases, I would recommend the chief to be there to see that such work is properly carried out, and not left to those who care but little if the plant lives or dies, and who are ignorant of its requirements.
The proper time for carrying out such operations has been referred to. Some cultivators repot all their plants in the spring, and say, because growth is well commenced and the roots are active, this is the proper season. I prefer the autumn, after growth is completed and the flower-buds beginning to swell. Their roots are then active, and the plants are less liable to be damaged than when they are growing in the spring. To lift them when the growth is advancing apace checks them more or less, and consequently impedes the rapid progress of the young shoots. If lifted in the autumn, while the roots are active, they soon take to the new soil, and are ready for a good start in the spring. In some cases, I have seen the following season's growths vigorous and fine, and no one would know that they had been removed, and scarcely a flower-bud fell.
A number of Camellias in pots came under my notice some seasons ago. They were in a very unsatisfactory state, the soil being sour, and some of the plants nearly washed out of their pots with water. They had usually thrown off the greater number of their flower-buds. The growth of the plants in question was completed in August, and the buds began to form. They were then turned out of their pots, the sour soil carefully taken from the few roots they had, and were again repotted in smaller pots, using plenty of sand amongst the compost, with the idea of getting some fresh roots and giving them a liberal shift the following season. After being potted, they were plunged in a slight bottom-heat, in a north aspect, keeping the tops cool. By the time the flowers expanded, the plants had made a good quantity of fine healthy roots, lost only a very small percentage of their bloom, and did all that could be desired the following season. Wm. Bardney.
Norris Green, West Derby.