Is fall a good time to transplant shrubs and trees?

Absolutely. In fact, fall is considered to be the best time to transplant shrubs and trees. In the fall, the soil temperature is still warm enough to create an ideal environment to promote new root growth. At the same time, cooler air temperatures cause less stress on plants that may have lost major portions of their root systems from being dug up.

What’s more, many plants and trees are entering a period of dormancy around this time of year. So instead of needing to pump energy into creating new foliage and above ground growth, plants are transferring that energy into their roots, storing nutrients and resources for the colder months ahead. Because of this, you are less likely to damage the plant when it’s in this state.

Keeping plants as intact as possible and using Rogue Compost in the soil at their new location will help them use all the available nutrients when growth begins again come spring. If you’re thinking about transplanting trees and shrubs, now’s the time.

Prep the plant to be moved

Before digging up a shrub or tree, be sure to prune any dead, dying or damaged growth. Because the plant is dormant, it’s OK to give it the same level of pruning you would normally do in the spring. Next, use twine to tie up the plant — similar to how you might bring home a Christmas tree. Making the plant more compact makes it easier to replant and lessens the chance of branches breaking or getting damaged. It can also help prevent you from getting cut and scratched during the move.

Dig the new hole

If you’re transplanting a tree, look to see how far the branches extend from the trunk. This gives you a rough guide as to how much of a hole you need to dig to move the tree to its new home. Shrubs, on the other hand, need to be balanced in order to stay upright and grow straight. Their roots grow in parallel to their top growth.

An old garden adage says that when transplanting, dig a ten-dollar hole for a one-dollar plant. Creating a hole that much bigger than whatever you’re transplanting helps the root system “take root.” Make the planting hole two to three times wider than the current root ball, but don’t make the hole any deeper than the space the plant was growing in prior to being transplanted.

Dig up the existing shrub or tree

It’s important to remember that in order to transplant a plant, you’re cutting the roots — making the plant go into shock. That’s why it’s important to keep as much of the root system as possible. Rock your spade back and forth to loosen the roots before carefully lifting the entire plant. If it’s big or bulky or heavy, ask another person to help.

Odds are that some of the thin feeder roots will break or be snapped during the excavation. You may even have to cut a few roots that won’t let go in order to free the shrub. That’s OK. Once replanted in its new home, the plant will begin sending out additional new roots. To prevent the roots from drying out, wrap the root ball in a tarp, large plastic bag or burlap sack — making sure to replant it as soon as possible.

Replant the tree or shrub

Take off any wrapping, then set the shrub or tree into the new hole at the same depth it was growing before. You can gauge the correct soil depth by looking for the soil “tide mark” on the trunk. This should sit on or slightly above the surface of the soil.

Once the shrub is in the new hole at the right depth, start infilling around and over the roots with excavated soil mixed with Rogue Compost. Tamp it down as you go to firm up the soil and support the plant. When the hole is completely filled in, generously water the root area, allowing the water to soak right down to the roots and help settle the soil.

You can mulch over the root area to help it retail moisture in the soil. Use three to four inches of organic matter, such as straw, shredded leaves or ground bark. But be careful not to have the mulch come in contact with the trunk, as is can soften and weaken the bark.

Shrub and tree transplanting Q & A

  • Can I transplant mature shrubs? For best results, you should move trees and shrubs within five years of their original planting.
  • How long does it take a plant to recover from transplant shock? As long as you do a good job of looking after your transplanted tree or shrub, “transplant shock” shouldn’t last long or be too severe.
  • Do I need to stake my transplanted trees and shrubs? In most cases, no. If your site is windy, hammer a stake into the ground on the side of the prevailing wind. Secure the shrub or tree to the stake with tree tie straps, making sure they don’t dig into the bark and the trunk has room to move and sway.

Share This