How to Transplant Deciduous Shrubs

Occasionally the need arises to move shrubs within the landscape.  Follow the tips below to have the best success moving deciduous shrubs like lilac, viburnum, dogwood, ninebark, panicle hydrangea, and others. 

When to Transplant

Early spring (before growth begins) and fall (after leaf drop) are the best times to transplant deciduous shrubs. 

How to Transplant

Shrubs are best moved with a ball of soil adhering to the roots. With a portion of the root system intact, transplanting shock should be minimized with faster reestablishment. 

The soil should be moist when the shrub is dug. If the soil is dry, thoroughly water the area 3 to 4 days before digging the plant.  

To make the transplanting process easier, wrap twine around the shrub to pull stems up and out of the way. Attach twine to the base of one of the stems, and then gently lift the stems upward and inward as the twine is wrapped around the shrub. With the stems compressed to a smaller area, it will be much easier to dig and move the shrub. 

The radius of the root ball for deciduous shrubs should be approximately one-half the distance from the dripline to the center of the shrub. Dig a trench with a spade around the plant to a depth of 12 to 15 inches. Then cut beneath the roots, rounding the bottom of the soil mass into a ball. Tip the soil ball to one side, place a piece of burlap in the trench on the opposite side, and then carefully lower the soil ball onto the burlap. Tightly wrap the burlap around the soil ball. Lift and carry the plant by the root ball rather than grasping the stems. 

If possible, replant immediately. Dig a hole that is approximately twice the width of the shrub's root ball. The depth of the hole should be equal to the height of the soil ball. Carefully lower the shrub into the hole, position it correctly, and begin to place soil back into the hole. When the hole is about two-thirds full, cut away the top (exposed) portion of the burlap. Then complete the backfilling of the hole and water thoroughly. 

Home gardeners should limit themselves to transplanting deciduous shrubs that are 5 feet or less in height. Root balls greater than 2 feet in diameter are extremely heavy and usually require mechanical equipment to move the plants. Shrubs greater than 5 feet in height can be moved by professionals with a tree spade.

Last reviewed:
June 2023