Moving up


Lee Bestall
1st February 2021

With a little planning and preparation, many trees and shrubs can be moved if they are not best sited. Give them the space they need to flourish, and put them in the spotlight.

One of the biggest sources of problems in gardens, is the wrong plant being planted in the wrong place. The thought of moving bigger woody shrubs and small trees inspires anxiety, for fear of losing them all together. Sometimes we have to weigh up the pros and cons - leave a plant where it is until one day it needs to be cut down because the problem is out of hand, or move it somewhere more suitable, risking shocking the plant until it settles into its new spot.

Deciduous trees and shrubs can be moved at any time when they have no leaves (dormant season), generally late October to mid-March, depending on your area.

Evergreens are a bit more fussy about root disturbance, because they are losing water through their leaves even in the winter. These are best moved when there is still warmth and moisture in the soil but the weather is generally cool and damp, in October, or around late March. 

If the plant is quite a big mature specimen, be it deciduous or evergreen, it is worthwhile getting it ready for moving a whole year in advance. Between November and February, run a deep spade into the ground in a line following the drip-line of the tree (the outer reach of the branches). This will cut through any long roots and encourage fibrous feeding roots to grow, in preparation for moving. Prune out any dead or worn-out growth while you’re at it, but don’t cut back hard - branches are an energy store that the plant will call on to grow new roots once transplanted.

When it comes to lifting and moving, prepare the destination hole before you lift the tree, so the time where roots are exposed to drying sun and winds is minimized. Water the plant well the day before, so it is well hydrated and the soil is soft for digging. Tie the branches up with some rope, to help protect them and give you space to work.

Once you have lifted the tree or shrub, trying to keep as big a root ball as possible, make sure the planting hold is wide enough and deep enough. Fill in the soil around it, firming it in to eliminate big air pockets. You want to plant it back with the soil surface coming to exactly the same height as it was before. If needed, use a stake or guy-wires to hold the tree upright for the first year or two.

Give a really thorough soaking after planting to settle it in, and then make sure you keep the tree well watered into spring and through summer, to make up for any roots lost during transplant. 

Have a look through your borders and see what gems you could bring out onto centre stage. With a little preparation and planning, the risk is minimal.


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Lee Bestall

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