Moving trees and shrubs

We’ve all done it. Planted a tree, shrub or climbing plant somewhere in the garden, only to realise a few years later that it’s in totally the wrong place! Usually, it’s because it has grown too big and outgrown its allotted space. So, can you transplant it somewhere else?

It’s pretty easy to dig up and move most small trees, shrubs and climbers to somewhere more suitable. Small and young plants (normally up to five years) usually move with no problem at all, but well-established and old plants may not recover from the shock of being transplanted, so this can be a bit of a risk. But, if you have to do it - you have to do it.

The best time to move deciduous plants is when they have dropped their leaves and are fully dormant - usually any time from late October/November to the end of February. Evergreens transplant best in October or late March, when the relatively warm soil will allow their roots to re-establish quickly.

Prepare early to move trees and shrubs

Wherever possible, before lifting and moving, start by pruning back up to one-third to half of the stems and top growth – this will reduce the stress on the plant’s roots and so aid more successful re-establishment.

The day before moving, water the soil around the plant thoroughly. This will ensure the roots are fully charged with moisture and reduce stress.

Moving day

When you’re ready to move the plant, dig up as big a rootball as possible that you – or you and a friend or two – can safely lift and move. Ideally, this should be as wide as the spread of the branches.

Have the new hole dug and ready, so you can transplant straight away. This should be the width of the expected root spread, plus an extra 30-45cm (12-18in). Fork over the bottom of the hole and add some bulky, well-rotted organic matter.

Replant in the prepared hole, adding more organic material and some well mixed in bonemeal to the excavated soil, so that the rootball sits at the same level as it was originally, and is covered with no more than an inch or so of soil. Firm the soil around the rootball as you fill in the hole.

Tall shrubs and trees may well need staking to help keep the roots secure while the plant is re-establishing.

Finally, water in well after moving and for the first year during prolonged dry periods, and mulch the soil to retain soil moisture.

Moving mature trees and shrubs

Very mature plants need preparation a year in advance to give them a better chance of re-establishing.

Dig a circular trench around the plant one spade’s spit wide and one to two spits deep in line with the spread of the branches any time from November to February.

Back-fill the trench with sharp sand to encourage fibrous roots, which will help the plant to re-establish quickly when you move it the following year.

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