DALY: Winter is a good time to transplant trees and shrubs

Tim Daly

Do you have trees and shrubs in your landscape that you feel would be more attractive in another place? Are you considering moving them?

Transplanting established plant material is a low-cost way of changing the appearance of your home landscape. However, transplanting can be challenging. By following some simple procedures, you can increase the chances that relocated plants will survive and become established.

Transplanting is best done in the fall and winter months, particularly for planting container-grown new trees and shrubs. The branches and leaves are not growing during the cold temperatures, but the roots will continue to spread. They will become established by the following summer and have a higher resistance to the hot, dry temperatures of summer.

Before transplanting, make sure the plant is suited to the site where it will be moved. If it prefers full sun, such as a rose, then locating it in a shady site will cause the plant to perish. Does the plant fit the space it will be moved to? What may be a small shrub today could be one that is over 20 feet tall in a few years, such as some of the hollies. If this size will not present a problem, then moving it will be alright. However, if the desired height is 10 feet or under, then find another more suitable shrub to move. Also take into consideration drainage, air flow, and maintenance needs.

When transplanting, also consider the physical size of the plant you are relocating. Some are too large for transplanting and could perish if dug up and moved. A good rule of thumb is not to transplant any tree with the main trunk over one inch in diameter. If you desire to move larger trees, and large shrubs, then you should consider contacting a landscape installation firm. They have the equipment required for transplanting these bigger plants, which increases the chances of their survival.

Tie up the branches of the plant that are low hanging or bushy before digging them. This action will reduce the likelihood of the plants being damaged and also will make moving them more manageable. Prune away any old stems that are near the soil line. Mark the place on the main trunk where it meets the soil to help determine how deeply it should be planted at the new site. Dig a trench around the plant far enough away to preserve as much of its fibrous root system as possible by using a sharp, clean shovel to sever the roots. Angle the shovel, making the cuts away from the center of the plant, to prevent harming the main root ball. Cut the root ball under the soil at a 45-degree angle to loosen it and sever any roots that are remaining. Trim around the rootball and make clean, complete cuts. Make sure you get as much soil as possible with the root ball when moving it. Move the plant into a container, or onto burlap, and then carefully transfer it to its new site.

At the site where it will be transplanted, dig a hole two to three times the diameter of the root ball. The hole should be no deeper than the top of the rootball. Place the plant into the hole and begin filling it with the backfill soil; do not add any organic soil amendments. Pack the soil tightly around the rootball. Apply a two to three-inch layer of fine organic mulch such as pine bark, pine straw or cypress mulch. Thoroughly water the plants after planting, and periodically apply more water to keep the soil evenly moist. Never place any fertilizer in the planting hole. Wait until spring to evenly broadcast an all-purpose fertilizer, such as 10-10-10, over the root zone of the plant.

Transplanting trees and shrubs can reduce costs and improve the curb appeal of your home landscape if done correctly. If planted in the proper place suitable for its growing conditions and provided appropriate care, the newly transplanted plant should thrive.

Timothy Daly is Agricultural and Natural Resource Agent with the UGA Extension Gwinnett. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu