The Q&A Archives: How to move a rhododendron

Question: Due to a house addition, I will have to move my rhododendron. It is about 5 ft. high and about that broad. Any suggestions? Should I cut it back a lot, a little, leave it "whole". I realize I may lose it, but I want to try. It has been growing right next to the north side of the house and is the ony place I have had success with one so far. We are at the south end of zone 5 so it is the winter sun and "January thaw" that are so hard on some of the early bloomers. Would the north side of an evergreen be a good place to relocate it?

Answer: Some rhodies grow in full sunshine and some prefer shade. Sounds as though yours has lived in shade, but also in a protected area. (The house would have kept chilling winds at bay and might even have radiated some heat during the winter months.) Try to duplicate the degree of shade when you move it, and plan on putting it near a fence or hedge that will protect it from severe winter weather. It's best not to prune a plant prior or immediately after transplanting. Your rhodie will suffer enough shock from the move; don't compound the problem with careless handling or pruning. To make the plant more managable, take an old sheet and drape it over the top, then tie it loosely to keep the branches from being broken in transit. The roots of the rhodie will be within the top 10-12 inches of soil, and will radiate out beyond the branches. Start digging at the drip line of the longest branches and go all around the shrub, severing the feeder roots within the top 6-8 inches of soil. Then dig down toward the center of the rootmass, expecting to dig 10-12 inches deep. With some help you should be able to remove the shrub without too much damage to the roots. Place the plant on a plastic tarp and pull or slide it over to its new home. Dig a hole a little deeper and wider than the root mass, gently place the shrub into the hole making sure it's at the same level it was growing before. Water it well and make sure it gets water on a regular basis until it becomes adjusted to its new home. Don't forget to remove the sheet! If you plan the move on an overcast day, or late in the afternoon, the plant will have time to recover before the heat of the day saps its energy.

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