Transplanting Trees and Shrubs

There are times when a plant out grows its spot in the landscape or needs to be moved to make way for changes in the garden. When transplanting a shrub or tree be aware of the weather. Transplanting shrubs or trees during very hot weather can cause stress for the plant, even frequent subsequent of watering. The best times of year transplant are in the spring and in the fall when the weather is cooler and wetter. Even then, if the weather is cool and cloudy watering is essential to the plant‘s success.

It’s a good idea to tie up the existing branches before you begin digging the plant out of the ground. This will give you a better view of what you are doing. Be sure, however, not to tie too tightly as you could break a few braches. Once you’ve tied up the shrub. begin to dig around the trunk. Its best to dig up as much of the roots as possible so begin a good distance from the main trunk.  A good rule of thumb is 12” of root ball for every 1” of stem caliper. Dig a trench around the trunk of the tree or shrub. Dig straight down and pull the soil away from the plant. I find its best to face the shovel backwards. Never try to pry the shrub out of the ground before its ready, you could break apart the root ball and loose much of the outer fibrous roots.

Loosening the Root Ball

Once you’ve dug down deep enough, begin to dig across, beneath the plant. Do this from all sides of the plant. Eventually the root ball will come loose. When it does you’ll be able to remove the tree or shrub from the hole. This, however can be tricky. Smaller plants can generally be lifted out of the ground with ease. It’s the larger plants which can be difficult. To remove these, lean the shrub, root ball and all, to one side. Lay down some sturdy burlap beneath the roots. Next, lean the shrub to the other side on top of the burlap and pull the burlap though. It will probably take some effort. With two people the plant should be able to be lifted out of the ground with the root ball intact.

Keep the Roots Moist

Plants should be kept moist while out of the ground and should planted soon after they are removed. When planting the shrub in its new spot follow these general guide lines for planting. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball and just as deep. Place the plant in the hole making sure that the top of the root ball is at the existing grade of the garden. If there are some roots which seem to be getting in the way of the plant sitting properly you can prune them. Just as pruning the branches of the shrub or tree can invigorate the plant so can pruning the roots. Never plant new or transplanted tree and shrubs too low or too high, this a major cause of premature plant decline. Back fill with a mix of existing soil, peat moss and compost or manure about half way. At this point water and let the soil settle. This will eliminate any air pockets and will water the deep root immediately. Construct a saucer around the trunk of the tree and water again.  Staking may be needed if the plant is tall and exposed to wind.

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