Senior Landscape Designer
What do you do when you have a perfectly good plant in the wrong spot? Sometimes a tree or shrub is planted with good intentions, but it grows too big for the spot. Other times the conditions may change over time, and what was a good location may not be any more. Rather than killing the plant and starting new, transplanting may be the solution. If that is your plan, there are a few things you will want to take into consideration before you begin.
Transplanting can be very labor intensive on you, and is very stressful on the plant being moved. In digging, up to 90% of the roots that provide water and support for the plant can be lost. To maximize the plants chance of survival it is important to keep as much of the root system intact as possible.
When trees are grown in nursery fields the growers will ‘root prune’ the trees periodically to encourage the trees to develop more feeder roots closer to the trunk. Unless you plan your transplant years in advance, you will not have that luxury. But you can make sure you keep the root system well hydrated by watering in the weeks and days before digging.
Timing your transplant is key to success. If possible, you want to avoid digging when the plant is in a new growth phase (early Spring). The tender new growth will be easily damaged if you do. Many trees (birches, beeches, and oaks for example) are what are called Fall digging hazards, meaning they are likely to die if dug in the autumn months. So, the best time to dig many plants is when they are dormant in the winter, as long as the ground isn’t frozen.
To capture the maximum number of roots you want to dig a root ball that is as large as practical. The rule of thumb is for every inch of trunk diameter, you should have 10” of root ball diameter. To keep that root ball from falling apart when the plant is moved, nurserymen cover the roots with burlap and ‘drumlace’ the ball with sisal (twine). Any roots that are cut during the process should be cut clean with pruners or a pruning saw. If access allows, sometimes larger trees can be dug with a mechanical tree spade that will help preserve much of the root zone.
When putting the plant back in the ground, be careful to choose a new spot wisely so you will not have to move the plant again. Just like planting a tree or shrub from the nursery, you should prepare a hole twice as wide as the root ball. A common mistake is planting too deep. The plant should be planted at the same height it was before, if not slightly higher. You should create a water well (temporary dam around the perimeter of the root ball) and soak the plant in with plenty of water. (Remember it just lost most of its roots!) If the plant is unstable it may need to be staked.
After planting it is extremely important to give the plant extra water since it has a limited root capacity to take up water. If the plant is an evergreen, it is a good idea to treat it with an anti-desiccant in the winter to keep it from drying out. You should only prune off dead or damaged branches after transplanting since any superfluous pruning will just add further stress on the plant.
If the transplanting job is too big for you to handle, you may want to consider having the Hicks Landscapes team do the work, or start with a new plant from Hicks Nurseries wonderful selection of plants.