Occasionally the need arises to move existing trees or shrubs within the home landscape. Small plants may be moved by home gardeners. Older, larger trees and shrubs should be left to professionals with the proper equipment.
The best time to transplant deciduous trees and shrubs is while they are dormant -- early spring before growth begins or in the fall after leaf drop. Evergreens are most successfully transplanted in early spring (late March and April) and late summer (mid-August to mid- September).
To reduce interference while digging, the branches of the trees and shrubs should be tied up with twine or small rope. Attach the twine to a low branch, then gently lift the branches upward and inward as the twine is wrapped around the plant. With the branches out of the way, it will be much easier to dig and move the plant without breaking limbs. It will also be safer for the individual, especially if the plant has thorns.
Most trees and shrubs are best moved with a ball of soil adhering to the roots. With a portion of the root system intact, transplanting shock should be minimized with faster reestablishment. The soil should be moist when the plant is dug. If the soil is dry, thoroughly water the area 3 to 4 days before digging the plant. When moving trees, the radius of the root ball should be approximately 8 to 12 inches for each inch of trunk diameter at chest height. For shrubs, the radius of the root ball should be approximately 1/2 the distance from the dripline to the center of the shrub. Dig a trench with a spade around the plant to a depth of 1 1/2 to 2 feet. When digging the trench, work with the back of the spade toward the plant to prevent the break up of the soil ball. Cut beneath the roots, rounding the bottom of the soil mass into a ball. Tip the soil ball to one side, place a piece of burlap in the trench on the opposite side, then carefully lower the soil ball onto the burlap. Tightly wrap the burlap around the soil ball and secure the burlap with twine. Lift and carry the plant by the root ball rather than grasping the trunk. Do not allow the soil ball to break during the digging, moving, and transplanting process.
When transplanting trees, do not remove a large number of branches. Remove only those branches broken or severely damaged during transplanting.
Home gardeners should limit themselves to moving and transplanting small trees and shrubs. Trees with a trunk diameter greater than 2 inches should be left to the professionals.
This article originally appeared in the March 20, 1998 issue, p. 25.