Sometimes you have a great plant but is in the wrong location. Transplanting is one way to help you address this situation. Here are a few guidelines for transplanting established plants on your property.

Great plant in wrong location
  • It is generally best to transplant in early Spring or early Fall.
  • Some plants have special transplanting requirements. Find out by asking a knowledgeable person at your area garden center or reading about the plant.
  • Dig the hole where the transplant will go before you start to dig up the plant. That way you can get the plant into its new home quickly to minimize “transplant shock”
Dig hole before you transplant

Anti-desiccants or anti-transpirants are spray applied, wax-like films that inhibit moisture loss through plant foliage. They can protect plants during transplanting, when the plant may otherwise lose more moisture through its foliage than it takes in with its roots. Typically, you don’t need them but if you have a sensitive plant that you are moving Anti-desiccants are worth considering as they can reduce the likelihood of wilting and transplant shock.

Anti-desiccants are also used to protect evergreen plants from winter wind burn, which occurs when cold dry air robs plants of moisture that they can’t replenish from the frozen ground. This use of Anti-desiccants will be discussed in more detail in the upcoming winterizing lesson.

Anti-desiccants are spray applied films that inhibit moisture loss through plant foliage
Anti-desiccants are used to protect evergreen plants from winter wind burn
  • Before you transplant make sure the soil is moist so that it can help hold the root ball together.
Make sure soil is moist before transplanting
  • Prior to digging, pull the branches together with string tied around the plant. This will keep the branches out of your way when digging and help minimize damage to the plant. Also, pull back any mulch from the base of the plants so you can better see your digging area as you travel around the plant.
Before digging tie up plant branches
  • Carefully dig around the plant to create a root ball (in the next section we show you how to estimate the size of the rootball you will need). After you have worked completely around the plant, start to work your shovel underneath and try to gently pry the plant loose. If you are encountering really thick root clusters or the plant does not budge at all you may need to dig deeper. Continue to excavate the soil from underneath the plant and try to pry the plant out of the ground. You will need to repeat this process until the plants roots are fully loosed and freed from the soil. Be careful not to chop into the main root cluster under the plant. You need to leave at least 8-12 inches of soil underneath the plant (more for large trees and shrubs) otherwise you may take out so many roots that the plant won’t be able to survive.
Carefully dig around plant to create a root ball
Continue to excavate soil from underneath plant and try to pry plant out of ground
Leave at least 8-12 inches of soil underneath the plant
  • Once the plant is free you can carefully place it into a wheelbarrow if the root ball will stay together. If the soil is loose around the plant you should wrap it in burlap to help hold it together as you transport it to its new home.
If rootball will hold together move plant with a wheelbarrow
  • Adequate watering is essential: keep the soil around the transplant consistently moist for 3 weeks (longer in hot weather), then water as needed afterward.
Adequate watering is essential after transplanting
  • Do not prune branches to compensate for root loss. Minor corrective pruning is ok.
Do not prune transplants to compensate for root loss
  • Avoid using fertilizers for the few months after transplanting. You can use a small amount of a straight phosphorous fertilizer (bone meal, super phosphate, rock phosphate) mixed in with the backfill. If available, use a root stimulant.
Avoid using fertilizers just after transplanting

Woody Plants
When transplanting small trees and shrubs, you must estimate the size of the root ball. If you aren’t familiar with your particular plant’s root system, this method will at least help you calculate the approximate root ball size: Using your measuring tape, measure the diameter of the plant trunk a few inches from the ground.

Measure diameter of trunk few inches from ground

Then measure the root ball according to the trunk diameter:

  • If the diameter is an inch or less, measure 12 inches out from the trunk.
Estimate root ball size according to trunk diameter
  • Add an additional 1 inch out from the trunk for every additional inch of trunk diameter.
  • For multi-stemmed shrubs measure 12 inches beyond the outermost stem. It is best to have at least one person help you when transplanting larger plants, because root balls are heavy and a bit unwieldy.
For multi-stemmed shrubs measure 12 inches beyond outermost stem

Non-Woody Plants
Transplanting non-woody plants is an easy task. Carefully slice an outline around the plant, about 6 inches beyond the outermost leaves. Pry the plant out of the ground gently.

Gently pry plant out of ground

If you encounter much resistance when taking the plant from the ground, slice any remaining roots underneath the main root cluster.

If you encounter resistance slice remaining roots underneath main root cluster
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