Transplanting Evergreen Plants and Shrubs

Moving Evergreens

Moving plants is often the best solution to a problem, but there are definite steps along the way to doing this successfully; this article is all about moving evergreens like box, yew or pyracantha.

The stress of being dug up and moved can be minimised with a bit of planning, so consider that:

  • Plants younger than five years old should be relatively easy to move.
  • Older plants may need a specialist contractor (or several friends) as their size means heavy work and lifting.
  • If you want to move a plant because it has got out of hand you could always consider a complete pruning overhaul of a plant: a process that may take a couple of years.

Otherwise, read on!

Before you dig up an old friend

You need a plan. Are you going to replant immediately? If so then make sure the new hole is ready;

  • Estimate the size of the rootball. As a rough guide, you should imagine that the roots of the plant extend as far out as the branches reach.
  • Mark out this area and add 30 cm around it if the plant is large.
  • Dig down a spade's depth throughout the entire area (or more if the plant is long established).
  • Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole and around the edges.
  • Have some Rootgrow and a little multipurpose compost or leaf mould to hand, especially if you are on sandy soil.
  • You may also need a stake or some ropes to use as guy ropes if the plant is very large.

If you are not replanting immediately, have some hessian sacking and some spare soil ready.

Moving on

The best months to move evergreens are in October/November when the soil is still warm but the plant is semi-dormant, or in late February/March, just as the soil is beginning to warm up but while the plant is still sleepy. Choose a calm, overcast day where the temperature is above freezing.

  • Water well a couple of days before you start.
  • Using a spade dig a trench a spit deep in a circle around where you think the root-ball is.
  • Take a fork (less likely to damage the roots) and ease the rootball up and out by gently lifting the soil inside the trench.
  • Once you have eased the soil loose around the edge a couple of times you should be able to exert more force and lift the plant and rootball out.
  • Try to keep as much soil as possible around the rootball but expect to lose some roots.
  • Cut any large roots that won’t come out cleanly with secateurs.
  • Place the rootball on some damp hessian sacking and wrap it up.
  • If you are not replanting immediately you may need to pack some extra soil around the rootball before wrapping and then keep the roots moist and out of frost or direct sunshine until you can replant.

Replanting evergreens

Do this as soon as possible after you have lifted the plant. The hole you have dug will (and should be) be bigger than the rootball you have made. So you will need some of the soil you have removed to fill in the gaps around the edge when you are planting. However as there will already be a root-ball in the hole, you won’t need all the soil you removed. So make a generous estimate of how much you will need and remove any stones, weeds and the like and break up any clods. Unless the soil is good, improve it by adding 30-25% of well-rotted manure or garden compost. This is your planting mixture.

  • Gently put the rootball into the prepared hole
  • Use the soil mark on the trunk of the plant to check the depth. You are aiming to plant it at the same depth as before. Remove or add soil to the hole to get this level right. Do this with care as it is important.
  • Make sure the plant is positioned to best effect (upright? best side facing the garden?)
  • Remove the plant from the hole one last time and apply half the Rootgrow to the bottom of the hole.
  • Replace the plant, spread out the roots as best you can, water the rootball, and sprinkle it with the rest of the Rootgrow.
  • Gently backfill with planting mixture, treading it down firmly but carefully as you go to rid of any air pockets. Also, as you go, double check that the plant is at the angle and aspect you want. It is boring to have to dig it up and start all over again…
  • Once the planting hole is filled, firm the plant in with the ball of your foot one last time and water again.

Please remember that a big tree or shrub can present a large area to any wind and may need guy ropes to hold it in place while it is taking root.

Aftercare of Transplanted Evergreens

Transplant shock is a common problem when planting evergreens. The leaves yellow and drop as a defence mechanism which reduces the amount of water needed by the plant while it is putting out new roots. Transplant shock happens either when the rootball is too small to support the plant above ground, or when there is not enough available moisture in the soil. As the roots grow, the plant should recover, but it can be unsightly in the meantime.

The simplest way to prevent this is to keep a wary eye on the weather. In the spring after planting – from March to the end of June, you need to water well when it does not rain and – if it is in a windy spot - protect your treasure from the wind with sacking or a makeshift windbreak.

Moving plants that have been in situ for some time

If your plant has been in place for over five years you will need to do everything outlined above, but more forward planning is needed.

  • In the November to February before the transition, estimate the root-ball size as above and dig a circular trench about 30 cm wide around that area.
  • Obviously, don’t make the circle so big that the resulting root-ball will be too heavy to handle, so you may have to encroach on the root-ball to do this.
  • Fill the trench with sharp sand. Your plant will send out fibrous feeding roots into this no man's land. These will be incredibly useful in establishing the plant and avoiding transplant shock when it is moved.
  • At the same time, it is worth giving the plant a little trim and removing any dead twigs or branches but do not be too harsh.

Doing all this about 12 months before you need to move your treasure to maximise its chances of surviving the move.


Then, a year later, follow the steps in the top part of this article and transplant as if it were a smaller plant.


Good luck.

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