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Moving Established Trees and Shrubs


Moving Tree and Shrubs

It is possible to move established trees and shrubs but even with the best care and attention, they may not survive. However, the stress of being dug up and moved can be minimised with a bit of planning but definitely don't try it if the ground is frozen or waterlogged, plants younger than five years should be relatively easy but some points in advance:

  • Older plants may need help from a professional contractor as their size means heavy work and lifting.
  • Pruning could be an alternative If you want to move a plant because it has got out of hand and could be carried out over two or three years.
  • Too much or too little watering can be a major problem as can loss of roots or transplanting too deeply.


The optimum time to move established trees or shrubs depends on their type.

  • Deciduous plants: Move at any time during the dormant season from late October to mid-March.
  • Evergreens plants: Best moved during October or late March when the soil is beginning to warm up. This allows the roots to re-establish themselves quickly.
  • Choose a calm, dull day to help prevent roots from drying out.

Moving Your Old Friend


If possible prepare mature specimens a year in advance as follows:

  • During November to February when dormant dig a circular trench one spade spit, 30cm (1ft) wide, parallel with the branch spread.
  • Back fill the trench with sharp sand to encourage fibrous, feeding root growth which will help the plant to re-establish quickly.
  • Thin the growth lightly by pruning out any old, worn-out wood, but do not prune hard. Where necessary, re-shaping can be done once the plant is well re-established.

Lifting and moving

  • Water the soil well the day before moving.
  • Determine the extent of the root spread by exploratory digging. The main area covered by feeding roots is usually along the spread of the branches. Larger specimens may have root masses of 90-1.2m (3-4ft) or more in diameter and 40-45cm (16-18in) or more in depth.
  • Loosely tie in branches before lifting. Lift the plant with as much rootball intact as possible. Some thicker roots may need to be severed cleanly with a sharp knife or secateurs.
  • Place on a piece of damp sacking or similar material for transporting and keep the roots covered to avoid drying out by wind or sun. Where possible, lift and replant in one operation.

If replanting cannot take place immediately, pack the rootball with organic matter and wrap it in sacking, before placing it in a cool, shaded spot. Keep the plant well-watered.


  • Before moving, make sure you have prepared the new spot in advance. Mark out the estimated spread of roots, adding an extra 30-60cm (1-2ft). Excavate to at least 30cm (1ft) and fork over the base and sides. On poor sandy soils mix some leafmould or garden compost with the soil to be used to backfill.
  • Place the plant in the hole, checking that the roots can be spread out fully. Where necessary, adjust the size of the planting hole.
  • Use the old soil-mark on the stem of the plant as a guide to the correct new planting depth. This will prevent replanting too deeply (one of the biggest killers of all plants). Equally, planting with upper roots exposed will damage most plants.
  • Firm around the plant carefully to eliminate air pockets as you fill in the planting hole. Larger plants and those placed in windy sites may require staking or guying for year or two after planting until re-established to prevent wind rock.


Moving a tree or shrub is very stressful for the plant, so for the year after moving take particular care of the following:

  • Ensure that plants are watered in thoroughly after planting and during dry spells.
  • A thick mulch of organic matter such as chipped bark or garden compost will help conserve moisture and suppress weeds. Keep the base of the plant free from mulch.
  • Evergreens may need watering even during winter months when newly planted, but avoid applying water in frosty weather.
  • In spring, as growth begins, apply a general fertiliser or sprinkle some
    rootgrow to help the roots re-establish.
Posted by Charlie Groves

Charlie is the manager at Groves Nurseries.  He is the 6th generation of C.W. Groves to run the garden centre. 

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