Sometimes, for one reason or another, we need to dig and transplant shrubs from one place in the landscape to another. Perhaps the shrub isn't doing well where it was originally planted; the site may be too wet or too dry; too sunny or too shady ... Maybe you realized that it was planted too close to the foundation or perhaps you just want to move it someplace else.
In general, the best time to move or transplant shrubs is when they are dormant. Depending on where you live, this can be any time from late fall through early spring as long as the ground is not frozen or overly wet.
It is obvious that digging cannot happen when the ground is frozen, but plants should also not be dug when the ground is soggy. Digging plants in wet soil can increase the damage to the small roots that are so important for water and nutrient absorption.
It's easy enough to tell when deciduous shrubs like hydrangea are dormant because they lose their leaves but for broadleaf evergreens, like rhododendron, holly, and boxwood, it's not as clear cut.
Normally, evergreens enter dormancy in the late fall around the same time as deciduous shrubs, however, since they don't lose their leaves, they continue to function physiologically but at a reduced rate. Because of this, some experts recommend that evergreen shrubs should not be moved until late winter or early spring. Why? Evergreens continue to lose water through their leaves during the winter and since many of the small water absorbing roots are removed or damaged when a shrub is dug, the remaining root system may not be able to absorb enough water to replace the water that is lost. This leaves the shrub prone to winter burn.
If you DO need to move an evergreen in the fall, water it well after planting and then spray with Bonide Wilt Stop to help reduce water loss from the leaves and reduce transplant shock. Always follow the label directions.
Moving trees and shrubs when they are young and small increases the likelihood of success. The older they are, the more extensive their root system and the larger the root ball has to be.
Before you dig your shrub to move it, be sure to first prepare the new planting hole. Select the new location keeping in mind the cultural requirements of the shrub and its size at maturity.
Give it plenty of space, you don't want to have to move it again!
Once you have prepared the new planting hole, you are ready to dig up the shrub you are going to move. It is very important to dig as large a root ball as you can handle, but the size will depend upon the size of the plant.
Sometimes, especially for evergreens, it is beneficial to root prune before digging the shrub. If you have time to wait before transplanting, this increases the rate of success . It encourages the formation of new feeder roots and reduces transplant shock. Root pruning can be done in the early fall in preparation for moving the shrub the following spring.