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Transplanting Time-10 Tips to Success

Bushes and plants often wilt and die after transplanting, or just suffer along year after year. Many things can happen during transplanting to cause this. Here are 10 tips to help your transplanted plants, bushes and trees have a bright future! Read on…

10 Tips To Succesfull Transplanting

Removing a small bush for transplanting

Last week end was a perfect day to transplant. It’s early March now so the plants are still mostly dormant with little or no new root growth to worry about.  The ground is saturated with water, (maybe a bit more than ideal) and the air temperature is a cool 50 degrees and sunny, (the plants actually like overcast and rain), perfect working weather for us.
The earth is still more like 40 degrees. Time to move plants! Fall is also a great time to transplant, after the bushes are dormant. Wait until the leaves fall and the ground temperature is under 50 degrees. We want the plant to be using less energy to support it’s top growth so the roots have a chance to heal from the stress of the transplant and stay moist.


Our project today is to build a raised bed for our garden and to do that we need to move a lovage plant that was suddenly in the traffic pattern. So while Dave was working on the raised bed I dug a hole around the lovage bush.

This bush was just a tiny start last year, so pretty easily moved. I made a hole several inches around the green shoots to ensure I didn’t hit any roots. We are just moving a small bush today. We have successfully transplanted huge Lilacs, rhododendrons, fruit trees and many other medium to tall bushes and trees over the years.

  • The tricky part to digging around a bush’s root system is to avoid cutting off any large central leading roots and also the smaller, hairlike roots that are the feeding system for the plant. Without a good root system the transplant will surely be set back for the year or even killed entirely.
  • Early spring or late fall are the best seasons to transplant because the  roots will be dormant and they will have little risk of drying out. Also when a plant is dormant the roots have no (or little) top growth to support. Depending on the bush or tree you are transplanting, a good pruning of top growth can help to roots heal faster. Look into your particular plant and investigate it’s needs!
  • Dry or broken roots will really injure a plant in transplanting. 
  • If you live in a dry area with dry ground, be quick about getting the roots back into the ground.
  • Always fill the planting hole with water and let it soak out of the hole and then add about a quarter to a third of the hole in water again(if you have well drained or sandy soil), before seating your bush and filling with dirt.
  • Be patient and let the dirt and water in the hole work together to envelope the plant roots. Do this by gently adding dirt and pressing it into the roots.
  • Add water to the hole as needed to prevent air holes around the plant roots. The roots MUST be thoroughly moist and NO AIR POCKETS, or the root ball will do poorly,or die altogether!
  • water really, really well and often for the first year.

Our garden soil is mostly clay. Even this small bush was so heavy with waterlogged clay soil that I couldn’t lift it into the wheelbarrow without help. Heavy dirt pulls off roots if the root ball is not well supported as it is lifted. I have been frustrated in the past by having sections of a root ball fall off for just this reason. It can happen even when the soil is dry. Support your root ball as you move the plant! And be careful not to crush the bottom roots with the weight of the root ball. They are easily damaged. If you have a wheelbarrow with some dirt in the bottom of it that will cushion the ball nicely.  but take care how you place any heavy bush on a surface to move it.

Note: I’m only moving this bush across the yard. If you’re moving it into a truck for transport:

  •  Heel it in to a small mound of dirt on the truck bed floor just behind the cab or wrap the roots in wet burlap to keep the dirt close around them to prevent injury and drying.
  • Protect it from wind by tarping the transplant or put it directly behind the cab of the truck to get it out of the wind if there is no truck bed canopy.
  • Lay any tall bushes on the floor of the truck long wise if possible to prevent wind damage. Upright tall bushes or trees require a very slow speed to prevent wind damage. Wrapping or tarping are helpful, depending on the conditions.
Back to my  project. We wheeled our lovage plant over by the greenhouse to take advantage of that nice southern exposure and good dirt over there. I dug a hole about twice the width of the root ball and a little deeper. We normally fill the hole with water and let it soak in and then put in our plant. Today it’s already saturated ground with more rain on the way so we laid the bush carefully in the hole and shoveled dirt around it. The final step is to carefully press the dirt into the roots and ‘seat’ the plant firmly into it’s new home. I’ll go back and check it occasionally to make sure it’s well settled and flourishing.

Transplanted Lovage Bush

The lovage is pressed into it’s new hole with careful boot pressure. I’ll come back and check it in a week or so to make sure it’s well ‘seated’ and growing. As you can see lovage dies back to the ground each year and starts over every spring. This herb has a celery like flavor in recipes.
Over the years we have moved plants, bushes and small trees all over our property. Some more than once!
The key to transplanting bushes and trees is to move them while dormant, before new growth, if possible.
  • Avoid injuring the roots by cutting or breaking them off or letting them dry. The plant itself will usually take some abuse and may need a bit of pruning when it’s finally settled. Pruning will help reduce the amount of plant the roots have to support and feed as the root system is recovering.  plants can regenerate if the root system survives well enough.
  • Remember to water the transplants well the whole first year they are moved. The roots need to rebuild and spread out to get water and provide a foundation for the plant.
  • Trees  and tall bushes may need to be staked to keep them from falling, until the roots can anchor them.Every year we seem to need to move plants at our place. I hope this helps you out if you have to move any at your house. Happy transplanting!

Lets Summarize with 10 Transplanting Tips to Keep it Simple:

Here are 10 tips we have used to help us transplant flowers, bushes and trees around our own property. NOTE: Your unique climate conditions and local flora may require special conditions not covered here. Always check with your local garden shop or cooperative extension agent for the special conditions your climate, soil or plants may require. We use this method!

10 Tips For Successful Transplantin


Yes! It’s just NOT IDEAL.

If you have to transplant in the hot dry summer, expect to baby your bush a lot!

You will need to carefully follow my instructions for protecting the roots and probably prune the top growth a bit if the bush will tolerate that!

AFTER TRANSPLANTING: Protect the bush or tree from high winds and hot summer temperatures by cooling the roots with water in the early evening and morning hours, as needed. Make it a sun shade of some kind if you live in a really hot area and the bush is exposed to the sun all day.

Stake the bush, and keep and eye on the top growth. If it starts to die back, prune off the dead growth. If the roots are in good shaped you can LIGHTLY fertilize with Alaska fish or some other organic fertilizer, designed to support root growth. I have transplanted bushes, even from the nursery, in high summer and they appeared to be doing fine, only to lose them the next winter to cold dry weather. The whole first year of transplanting requires careful diligence in all seasons or you will lose transplanted bushes occasionally.

Transplanted Lovage Bush

One week after transplant this bush is healthy and growing fast!

Following up one week later:

This is the lovage plant we transplanted about a week ago. Look at it grow! It likes it’s new home and is growing well. Successful transplant!

REMEMBER: Any bush or plant CAN be transplanted if properly done. But don’t forget the proper prep and ESPECIALLY the follow up care!

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Justin Knox

Tuesday 10th of May 2016

Thank you for the help. I have a couple trees in my yard that I am hoping to transplant. It sounds like this may be the time of year to get that done. How long does it typically take for a new plant to adjust to its new location?


Tuesday 10th of May 2016

Hi Justin, Thanks for stopping by!

Since this is almost Mid May the soil is warm and the trees are no doubt leafed out. Depending on the size of the trees and type, I would be very careful moving full sized trees at this time of year. That being said, yes it can be done. Prepare them carefully, move them quickly, to a prepared hole at least twice the root ball size, and filled with water that is allowed to drain out at least once. There are products out there that can help reduce transplanting stress. Please try to use organic products if you can find them. For at least the next year; Keep the tree well watered, and use organic mulch under the leaf spread but not directly around the tree base. The roots need to regrow and stabilize the tree. This will take awhile so please stake the trees for the first year or so. Watering is so important to helping the tree re-establish the feeder roots. Year two transplants often need extra care as well. Watch the leaves. If the trees show protracted stress, the tree may require more help. If that happens I recommend you Contact your local arborist for tips on your particular tree species. Good Luck!