Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
October, 2006
Regional Report

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This weigela has outgrown its allotted space, making it a prime candidate for relocation.

Rearranging the Garden

Fall is a really good time to transplant trees and shrubs. With autumn's mild temperatures, top growth slows, but root growth is stimulated. In fact, roots will continue to grow through November and December in our gardening region, helping plants become solidly established and fully prepared for the demands of new spring growth.

Even if you're not thinking about adding new plants, there eventually comes a time when we realize that the right plant may have been planted in the wrong place. Maybe something doesn't look just right, or you've realized that you spent 20 minutes longer trying to mow because of a poorly planned design. Or, maybe a plant has simply outgrown its present location. Whatever the case may be, following a few guidelines when transplanting will ensure your plants' happiness in the end.

Questions to Consider
Before grabbing your shovel, stop a minute and ask yourself some questions. First and most important, is the plant worth moving? How well do you really like the plant? Does it have sentimental value? If it's young and healthy and you have another site that's more to its liking, move it. You'll definitely want to consider transplanting small, expensive, or hard-to-find trees and shrubs. But trees taller than 8 feet with trunks much larger than 2 inches in diameter may be too large to move without special equipment. Hiring labor or renting equipment can be expensive, so think twice before deciding to move very large plants.

Finally, if a shrub is massively overgrown and full of dead wood, unless you are REALLY attached to it, you'll be better off removing it completely and replacing it with a healthy new specimen.

After deciding the plant is OK to move, take another look at the intended new home to make sure it provides what the plant needs to grow successfully. Does the site drain well? Is there enough sun or shade? Have you amended the soil in the new spot? Will the plant have enough room to grow to mature size? Once you've answered these questions with a resounding "yes," it's time to get started.

Prepare Before You Dig
After deciding where you are going to transplant your tree or shrub, prepare the new location. The best thing you can do for your plant is give it a good start. Dig the new hole before you dig up the plant. This way, if you have to make adjustments, your plant won't be out of the ground for a long period of time. Make sure the new hole is about twice the estimated diameter of the rootball, but no deeper.

For easier digging, water the plant well a day or two before you plan to transplant. Moist soil holds together better in the ball than dry soil.

Unearthing Your Treasure
Consider the drip line of the plant when digging the rootball. The drip line is a good indicator of how large the rootball should be dug. If the plant is relatively large, it is a good idea to tie up the branches to protect the plant as well as yourself. Don't do any pruning prior to transplanting. You want all the plants' energy to go into producing new roots instead of producing new growth. Begin digging along the outside edge, working around the plant and digging progressively deeper as you go. Slowly ease the rootball out of the soil, doing your best not to disturb the soil around the ball.

Kindness Counts
Lift the plant by the rootball, not by the trunk or stem. After all that digging, you wouldn't want to cause damage by accidentally separating the crown from the roots! If you can't get the plant out by yourself, get some help and work it out using some type of leverage, holding the rootball intact. Try using an old sheet or plastic tarp to diaper the soil and hold it together during transport of the plant. As you dig around the rootball, slide the tarp under the plant and pull it up around the top of the rootball. Either tie the ends together or use nails to temporarily pin it together for the move.

Carefully set the plant in the new hole, then double-check its depth. Also double-check the alignment and location of the plant in the hole. The top of the ball should be even with a board laid across the hole. If everything looks right, begin backfilling with soil, tamping it down, and watering it in. Do this a little at a time to prevent air pockets in the soil. After filling the hole, lay your hose down and give the plant a good slow soaking.

Aftercare Guidelines
Newly transplanted trees and shrubs need lots of tender loving care to help them become established. Be sure to water regularly and slowly so roots don't dry out; mulch around their bases to conserve water and help discourage weeds; build a basin around each plant to help direct water down to the roots; and stake if necessary to help keep taller trees and shrubs upright.

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