Transplanting Trees and Shrubs


There are times when it is necessary to move a plant/tree that has grown too large for its position.

Prior to attempting such a task a few considerations should be made to minimise risk of failure.

For example; one should consider what is involved and also consider if you feel sufficiently competent to tackle such a task, or would it be better to employ a specialist.

Variety can often play a large part in the success or failure of such a move as some trees / shrubs resent root disturbance thus increasing the risk of failure.

For example shrubs such as Cytisus, Cistus, Elaeagnus,and Magnolia resent root disturbance and can be tricky to move.

As a rule of thumb: the smaller the plant the better the chances of a successful transplant!

When the decision has been made the next thing to consider is when to move the tree/shrub.


There are a couple of times in the year when it is considered best to move them and they are:

October, when the soil is still warm, or late March / April when the soil starts to warm again as this helps the roots re-establish themselves quickly.

As a general rule deciduous trees can be moved between both these dates when the tree/shrub is dormant providing the soil and weather conditions allow

Evergreens, such as Rhododendron, should be moved during October.

Prepare subject for lifting:

Prior to making the move it is best to prepare the new site in advance as this will ensure the transplant is not out of the ground too long.

The root system of the tree/shrub to be moved will have developed a large root system so it is advisable that some months before moving the tree / shrub, you do some root pruning to reduce the rootball's overall size.

Spring is a good time to carry out this task.

The method is to expose the outer limits of the root system and sever (prune) the outer most roots.

After pruning fill the trench with a 50-50 mix of compost and grit, this will allow the tree to develop new fibrous roots over the summer months which will help the tree/shrub establish itself quicker when it is moved in autumn.

Prepare new location:

At the chosen time to move the tree/shrub, prepare the new planting position in advance by excavating a hole some 300-400 mm(12"-15") wider than needed for the anticipated root spread.

Dig the hole slightly deeper than required particularly on heavy soil to allow for the addition of some well rotted manure or compost.

If the soil is heavy add a layer of grit in the bottom of the planting hole to assist drainage.

Lifting the tree/shrub to be moved:

Excavate a trench around the perimeter of the root system, undercut the tree by excavating the soil below and cutting deep penetrating roots including the tap root.

Loosely tie-in spreading roots and lift the plant with as large a root ball as is possible on to a tarpaulin sheet or similar, this will contain the soil during the move.


Place the tree/shrub in the hole, check the dimensions of hole to ensure full root spread, adjust for this if necessary.

Similarly check that the depth of the hole is suited to the depth the tree/shrub was in, in its previous location.

This can be measured by lying a straight edge across the hole and noting the position of the old soil mark, adjust depth as necessary.

Avoid planting the tree/shrub deeper than it was previously, and ensure that all the roots are buried.

Firm the backfilled soil in layers by tramping on it, this should eliminate air pockets.

It is advisable at this point to improve the quality of the backfill soil by incorporating well rotted manure or compost with it.

A few handfuls of a general fertilser mixed in at this time will also help to get the tree/shrub off to a good start.


Once the tree/shrub is in place fix the tree/shrub securely by means of tree ties to a stake/s to prevent wind rock.

Leave the tie/s in place for at least one year or until such times as you are sure the tree/shrub has re-established itself.


Water in the tree/shrub thoroughly and continue to water during dry spells.

Applying a thick mulch of organic matter will help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.

In spring, as growth begins, apply another dressing of general fertiliser.

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