How to Transplant a Shrub

How to Transplant a Shrub

Shrub Out Of Place? Transplant It.

I occasionally fall into the trap of buying a plant without really knowing where I want to plant it. A while back I got a ‘Tardiva’ hydrangea for almost nothing, and planted it “temporarily” among some hollies that only had a few perennials in the area. Fast-forward about four years, and I am now paying for that hydrangea. It has grown to over eight feet tall and wide (and has bloomed beautifully the past couple of years)! Well everything in that bed is overcrowded and it’s time to transplant.

How to Transplant a Shrub


When to Move

Winter and hard dormancy are the signs that its time to do the job, because it helps to minimize transplant stress. The roots can begin to grow into the new location without top-growth competition for water and nutrients. In our area, transplanting is best completed after fall leaf drop and before mid-winter. Our mild winters allow planting year round, but this is the sweet spot on the calendar.

How to Transplant a ShrubDig a Hole

I began by digging the hole where the shrub will be moving to. On most shrubs that can be transplanted by hand, the rootball will only be around a foot deep and as wide as the branches spread. I always plan to have the shrub sit a little higher in its new spot than it did in its old home. The roots will grow down into the soil, but there is a high liklihood of problems, including death, if they are buried too deep. Also, it’s always best to dig a bit wider than you think you’ll need. Remove sod and either use it elsewhere in the yard, or compost it. Pile the rest of the soil on a tarp or in a wheelbarrow to keep the surrounding grass clean.

How to Transplant a Shrub
These irises were growing around the hydrangea. They can be transplanted as well.


Prepare the Area

To prepare the shrub for moving, I trimmed it a little to make some working room. Sometimes it helps to gather the branches and tie them up with twine. I also moved out a few perennials that were in the immediate area, in order to save them. If you are moving it more than a few feet, mark one of the sides with a flag and note the compass direction (north, south, east or west). Orient the plant in the same way at it’s new location, again to minimize stress.

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How to Transplant

The transplant process is straight forward: dig it up and move it to the new spot. Ensuring success is another story. You need to get as much of the root mass as is feasible without damaging roots or stems. I used my new Ames spade to “prune” the roots by working my way around the drip line and stepping it straight down into the soil and pulling it back out. Next dig straight down following the spaded line. Once you are below the immediate layer of fibrous roots, begin to dig on a slant under the shrub. The idea is to dig the soil out and cut the roots, not to rip the plant out of it’s spot. When you get near the bottom, you may need to rock the plant back to dig out the last little bit.

How to Transplant a Shrub

Move It

Use a tarp or a piece of plywood to get the shrub out of the hole. Rock it back, slide the device under the rootball, then rock it foreward. You should then be able to slide it out of the hole. I used my riding mower to pull it out by wrapping a strap around the rootball and, after the tarp was under it, tying it to the bagger bracket and easing it out of the hole. There was no way I could have done it by myself otherwise. Because the new hole was only twenty feet away, I was able to slide it there all in one smooth motion.

How to Transplant a Shrub

I slid it off the tarp into the new hole, leveled it, and began backfilling. It’s important to backfill gradually and tamp the soil between layers. This helps to eliminate air pockets. Once its filled, use a little additional soil to build a two to three inch high berm around the hole. Initially the berm will help retain water as the shrub becomes established. Gradually it will level out with the rest of the soil…Now you’re ready to mulch and water the heck out of your newly transplanted shrub.

How to Transplant a Shrub

Fill the old hole back in, and use any remaining soil from the new hole to top off the old hole. There should be a slight mound that will settle to level back out with the rest of the ground. If the shrub is large you may want to employ some help. Little boys love to help dig holes 😉

How to Transplant a Shrub

Congratulations, your’re done. Happy gardening!


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