How to - Techniques

Move a large shrub in 10 easy steps

Judith Adam and Beckie Fox
Photography by
Bert Klassen (inset photos)

Relocate large, woody plants in autumn (after leaves drop) or early spring (before leaf buds sprout)

Sometimes our vision for the changes and all of a sudden we want to start moving things around. Here's what you need to know before you move a shrub into a new home.

What you'll need
  • Steel-toed boots
  • Straight-edged spade
  • Pruners
  • Large square 
of burlap to 
cover root ball
  • Soft twine (or old pantyhose or strips of burlap) to tie branches
  • Strong, natural-fibre binder 
twine to hold burlap in place
  • Tarpaulin for moving shrub and cleanup
  • Transplant 
solution (in spring only)
  • Organic mulch, such as shredded bark or leaves

Pro tips before you start
Before you dig, check with local utility and cable companies.

2. Woody plants more than 25 years old shouldn’t be moved. A shrub with bare canes and dead twigs likely has an abbreviated root system, dead cavities and insufficient energy reserves to survive.

3. A well-tended specimen with vigorous spring shoots and generous foliage will have a healthy root system and the stamina to withstand transplant shock and adapt to a new site.

4. If transplanting before soil has thawed in earliest spring, prepare the hole the previous autumn; stuff it full of straw or newspaper and cover with plastic.

5. If you have sandy soil, water shrub well for two or three days ahead of the move to help keep the root ball intact.

6. Never grasp and carry a shrub by its trunk or crown; if it’s heavy, slide it onto something that can be dragged, such as a tarpaulin, a shower curtain or cardboard.

7. Never tamp down soil with your feet, as this can compress the soil around the root ball and collapse its pore structure, driving oxygen away from the roots.

Start removing your shrub

Step 1
An overcast, windless, cool afternoon is best. Dig new hole first (if you haven’t prepared one the previous autumn), loosening soil beyond excavation.

Step 2
Prepare shrub to be moved by wrapping its branches. Take long length of twine and, starting at bottom, make a slipknot around trunk; wrap shrub in spiral fashion to its top. Use your leg to push up and in on branches to make shrub as compact as possible; tie at top.

Step 3
Determine how big root ball is by measuring diameter of main stem or trunk 15 centimetres above soil surface. Each 2.5 centimetres of trunk diameter equals at least 25 to 30 centimetres of root ball diameter (e.g., a five-centimetre trunk needs a 50- to 60-centimetre root zone). With spade’s back always facing shrub, gradually dig out soil around root ball.

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