Perhaps you’re in the throes of a new landscape project and need to move an established spruce tree. Or maybe those boxwoods, which thrived just a couple years ago, now look rather overgrown against your home. That doesn’t mean you need to get rid of your mature plants—you can still salvage them by moving them to a new location, although you may want to sit tight and let them be until the fall. Transplanting mature trees and shrubs is not an easy project—it puts a great deal of stress on the plant—but it’s definitely doable.
Plan, plan, plan. Ideally, you should move your plants when growth is dormant or slow—before the buds begin to swell on the tree during the spring, or after the leaves fall in autumn. Try to avoid transplanting during the summer and when the ground is frozen.
Also make sure the plant is in good health, or it might not survive the move. Generally, younger plants and shallow-rooted species have the best transplant success rate. Not sure about the success rate of your mature tree or shrub? Ask an arborist for assistance.
Pick a good spot. It goes without saying that different shrubs and trees have different growing habits, so be sure to do your research ahead of time. If your plant thrives where it currently is, select a new spot with the same growing conditions. (For instance, if your favorite shrub faces north, you’ll still want it to face north. And if your shrub loves the shade, don’t site it next to a sun-loving variety.) Also make sure you leave enough room for the roots to grow.
Dig it up. Dig the planting hole before you dig up the shrub (the transplanting process is less likely to be successful if the roots are out of the soil for a long time). Make sure the hole is at least 2 to 3 times as wide as the size of the rootball (but don’t go any deeper, or water may puddle up and result in icky root rot), and saturate the hole so the plant can adapt better. If you’re working with a massive tree or shrub, you may wish to rent a tree spade, a machine that digs out and transplants trees. Interested? Learn more from Popular Mechanics.
Now you’re ready to dig the actual plant. Water the soil around the area where you’ll be digging beforehand. Avoid digging at the base of the plant—start at least 3 inches out so that you can keep as much of the rootball intact as possible, because the more roots you’re able to transplant, the higher the success rate (this may be tricky for large plants). Afraid of cutting through too many roots? Learn the best digging techniques from The Organic Gardener. Once the soil is loose, gently move the plant onto a tarp that’s spread out on the ground for transfer to its new location. Once the plant is in the freshly dug hole, surround it with soil.
Put on the finishing touches. Your new transplant will need a little TLC in order to recover from its move. Once you’re done transplanting, spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around the base and water the new transplant thoroughly so it doesn’t dry out (transplants lack an extensive root system to drink up water). If you’ve got a larger plant, it may help to support it with steady stakes for a year. And don’t expect much growth out of your transplanted plant within the first year—it needs time to establish itself again. Because of the stress transplanting puts on plants, some plants may not even flower right away.
The Home Know-It-All