Transplanting Trees & Shrubs

Learn how to successfully transplant trees and shrubs


Transplanting Trees & Shrubs

Late winter and early spring are ideal times to transplant small trees and shrubs, while they are still dormant. Transplanting now, will help reduce transplant shock, but may stunt them a little during their first year of growth after being transplanted.

Another good time to transplant is in late fall and early winter, before the ground is completely frozen, but after the plant has gone dormant.

Transplanting season can be very short, depending on where you live. So it's important to really pay attention to the weather forecast and to keep an eye on your plants. Once they brake dormancy in the spring and begin to leaf out, I suggest you abandon your transplanting efforts until the fall.

Have your new location dug and prepared prior to digging up your existing plant. If you are transplanting a tree, do not amend the soil with compost. You want the new roots to grow out of the hole. If the hole is well amended with compost, the roots will not venture out of the hole as they should and the tree will have a weak root system and will be susceptible to droght and may be subject to blowing over easily. Instead, spread a half an inch of compost over the top of the soil after planting, using the compost as a mulch.

When digging up trees and shrubs, or any plant for that matter, you want to dig up as many roots as possible so that the plant has a lot of roots to help get re-established once replanted. The rule of thumb is to dig up a 12" diameter root ball for every 1" of stem caliber. That is why it's so hard to transplant trees and shrubs that are well established. It's very difficult to transplant anything large, without using heavy equipment. And then if you do get it moved, there is a greater chance of transplant shock and death of the plant.

When replanting, make sure the root ball is no deeper than it was planted originally. When in doubt, plant it a little higher; it will settle over time anyway. Make sure the soil is loose and gets all around the roots. Water the root ball about half way through the soil filling process. This will help the soil settle around the roots. You don't want air pockets in the soil or the roots will die where the air pockets are. Finish filling the hole with soil and water again. Make a well around the base of the tree with compost or mulch. This will help the water remain focused on the root ball when you water. Otherwise, the water would just drain away from the root ball and will not saturate the roots.

It could take a full year or two for the tree or shrub that you moved to get established again. You will need to water during periods of drought (at least 1" a week, more if it's hot). Don't use synthetic fertilizers. Compost or compost tea will be all your tree or shrub needs to get established. If it's a flowering tree or shrub, you may want to clip off any flower buds for that year. I know it's hard to do, but it will help your plant in the long run. If you want to avoid that, then transplant spring flowering plants in the fall and summer or fall flowering plants in the spring.

In my next gardening article, I talk about root pruning, which can greatly increase the survival rate of larger trees and shrubs.

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