Expert Advice

How to Transplant Trees & Shrubs in Your Garden

Posted on October 1, 2018

Ken Muellers
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.

Hicks Nurseries Tree Transplanting Huntington NY

Today our landscape crews use the same techniques that have been used by experts at Hicks Nurseries for 165 years.

Historical Photo Hicks Nurseries Transplanting Trees

Hicks Nurseries has been transplanting trees and shrubs on Long Island since 1853.












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 Care
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.


Additional Resources:
Pruning with Purpose
How to Plant
Watering the right Way

Ask An Expert


Employee Profile

Alison Caldwell

Need help finding the right plant?



“Best selection on LI. Helpful staff. Great displays for inspiration.” – C. Mazza. 


“Beautiful flowers, beautiful shrubs, beautiful everything!” –Kevin M.                                         



“I wish my backyard was bigger so I can keep buying awesome stuff from Hicks!” –Jeanne S.


“I love taking my granddaughter to see hicks beautiful christmas, Halloween, and Easter displays! Thanks for a job well done!” –Mary Ellen S.


“I would like to commend you on the wonderful staff you have. A garden center should be a happy place. Everyone at Hicks had a smile and a pleasant word and I will continue to come back year after year.” Joan H.


“I just got home from a trip to Hicks Nursery. I was in awe of how many varieties of tomatoes are there! Actually, there is a huge selection of everything!! One stop shopping at its best!”  -Cathy A.


“Thank you for carrying such a large selection of organic herbs. I got behind in some of my seeds and really focus on an all organic garden. I was pleasantly surprised today by how big the selection was in all herbs. Got all the herbs I wanted.”  –Sophie L


“I love Hick’s for all the beautiful flower’s I plant in our yard every Spring. They have great quality and friendly service.”  – Erika M.


“I won’t shop anywhere else. Best plants in Nassau County. Great selection and the staff is both knowledgeable & helpful.” – Patricia M.


“You get everything right, knowledgeable & friendly staff, great quality plants, the gorgeous flower show, Otto and Santa.” –Pat B.


“I shop at Hicks and bring the flats back to our home in CT. I will always be a Long Island Girl.” –Lisa D.


“Hicks has always been a leader in the Green Industry; even during trying times. I hope the people appreciate just how wonderful Hicks Nursery truly is!” Erik F.


“Beautiful! We’ve been twice and will visit again. The show is always a LI spring highlight – great work! BTW, love the new landscape design center more visible and accessible – had a great consultation!”          – Jacqueline S.


“I so enjoy going to Hicks. It is a beautiful place and I feel refreshed when I leave there. Hicks offers so much more besides flowers. I usually meet old friends there every time I go.” –Anne D.


“You have a great selection of plants, some of which I have never seen!! The blue orchids are out of this world!!” – Rae K.