Moving Trees And Shrubs

By Sharon Naylor

July 1, 2011 5 min read

Maybe you have noticed that some of your trees and shrubs have grown larger than you expected, crowding one another and not looking their best. Or maybe you have noticed that one or two of the shrubs you planted in the spring aren't taking; they're not getting the sun or the soil drainage they need. To survive or simply to look better, they need to be moved.

When plants grow into one another, they experience stunted root growth, and the crowded conditions can foster disease from roots upward, resulting in yellowed leaves that fall off. Plus, a rotting plant becomes home to garden pests.

You've spent a lot of money on your plantings, so protect your investment through careful transplanting of the ones that need it most.

The ideal time to replant trees and shrubs is in the fall after plants drop their leaves, when plants are dormant, but do not wait until it is very cold, according to horticultural expert Dorrie Rosen.

Before you begin planting in new sections of your lawn, ask your municipality to mark where underground power, gas and sewer lines are located beneath your property. That way, you won't cut into lines or pipes, which would be expensive to repair.

When you move a tree or shrub, be sure that your plant has a healthy root ball and that you can lift the plant and root ball. A thinner tree trunk can snap if the root ball is heavy. If your tree is too large for you to manage, it's best to hire a landscaper who can use strength equipment to keep your tree from being damaged.

Next, tie the branches together loosely to keep them safe and out of the way.

Dig a trench around the tree that reaches out at least a foot beyond the root ball, being careful not to slice into existing root systems. When the root ball is exposed, begin wrapping it in burlap. Keep digging around and under the root system, carefully loosening the tree's footing in its original hole. Use the burlap to protect the root system.

Once you see the size of your tree's root ball, you can decide on the new position for the tree, choosing a site that provides the proper amount of sun and well-draining soil. If you spot a compacted layer of clay in the site where you begin digging the new hole, it's best to choose a new site. That layer is called hardpan and can prevent your tree from getting the water saturation it needs.

Dig a hole that is wide and deep enough for the tree's size. That usually means the hole is three times the diameter of the root ball and just deep enough for the root ball to reach ground level. Digging too deeply or too narrowly prevents the roots from getting enough oxygen for proper growth, and it also prevents the root structure from expanding to anchor the tree. Lift your tree by the root ball, never by the trunk.

Add soil to provide a slightly higher center of the hole, on which the tree will rest and the roots can cascade downward. Remove the burlap and twine you used to wrap the root ball, and place your tree in the hole. Ask a friend to stand back and help guide you in a straight placement of the tree so that it is not leaning when you finish transplanting.

Backfill with soil that is a combination of peat moss, composted manure and topsoil, and press firmly on the soil without overly compacting the soil so that water can seep into the root system through the aerated soil surrounding it. Stake the tree if necessary.

Add a thin layer of mulch around the bottom of the tree or shrub -- not covering the trunk -- to hold moisture, protect against temperature extremes and prevent grass and weed growth.

The International Society of Arboriculture advises keeping the transplant moist with regular watering, but don't over-soak it. Over-watering causes leaves to yellow and fall off, and your transplant will experience enough of a shock from its move. Prune off damaged branches, but avoid regular pruning until next season.

You also can divide your perennials, such as irises, daylilies and lilies of the valley. Gardening expert Melinda Myers advises digging up and dividing perennials to help each plant thrive, as well as creating new plantings around your property.

"Use a sharp spade to dig up the clump," Myers says. "I like to lift the clump out of the soil and use a linoleum knife to cut the plant into smaller sections, slicing through the root ball and dividing into four, six or eight pieces. Discard or compost the dead center. Prepare the soil for replanting by adding compost or organic matter. Plant at a depth of just a few inches, and water to get your new plants off to a good start. You can also dig small sections from the outer edge of the plant. This is a good option when the perennial is performing nicely and you just need a division to share or fill in a void in another part of the yard."

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