The Q&A Archives: Burning Bush Transplant

Question: I would like to transplant a mature (maybe 15+ years old) 7 foot tall Burning bush to a new location that is only about 6 feet from its current location. Presently, there are 2 of these nice bushes in the front yard of my house but for some reason one of them was planted on the left side of the front steps and the other was planted about 10 feet off to the right side of the steps. Thus, there is a notable visual imbalance when looking at the front entryway. Is there any risk in damaging the bush if I were to dig it up and move it to a position where the Burning Bushes would balance one another on the right and left sides of the porch ? Of course, I would have to dig deep and wide enough so as to minimize root disruption. But will the physical movement of such a mature plant put its health at risk ? The soil will be the same in its new location and the sun exposure will also be the same. Would you recommend a landscape nursery perform the job instead of me because they are more skilled at this type of thing ? Your general impressions would be greatly appreciated. I am uncertain as to the variety of the Burning Bushes but they are both flourishing nicely every year and I trim them to keep them at about 7 feet tall. They would probably reach 9-10 feet tall if I allowed them to.
Regards, Charlie Olson

Answer: In my experience moving a burning bush shrub of this size will be very difficult. If nothing else the root system will be huge and extremely heavy. Roots usually spread out substantially wider than the branches -- and this is a deep rooted shrub as well. It is unlikely you will be able to dig up all of the roots, so there will be some unavoidable rootloss. This has to be compensated for by the shrub dieing back, or by pruning off some of the branches.

I think professional equipment such as a tree spade would be more disruptive than helpful in such a small workspace area -- be prepared with a sturdy tarp to set it on to drag it to the new location, or a sheet of plywood with rollers under it.

It will take it several years to recover from being moved so it reestablishes and begins to grow well again -- the larger and older the plant, the longer this process can take. Ideally you would prepare it ahead of time by root pruning; this develops a network of roots closer to the plant and makes it easier to dig with an intact rootball thus reducing the chances of dieback. Here is some information on how to do that if you want to try it. You would root prune this fall to move it in early spring.

It occurs to me it might be easier to add two shrubs, one close to the steps on one side and one 10 feet out on the other and then hard or renewal prune the existing shrubs in late winter to scale them down in size. Eventually the new ones would catch up and you would ahve a set of four.

Good luck with your project!

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