We’ve all done it, planted a shrub or tree in the wrong spot and the thought of transplanting can be scary once the plant has established for a few years. Will I kill it? Well, nothing is ever guaranteed when it comes to nature but let’s set you up for the most success possible.

One key to successful transplanting of older trees and shrubs is trimming of the roots. I know this isn’t going to be a process many will want to hear as it takes time but, you’ve invested a lot in your plants so taking the extra step is definitely worthwhile!

The correct way to trim roots will take six months. Yes, six months.  If we were to simply dig up the tree or shrub and move it as soon as we get the urge, the odds that it will survive are pretty slim. Abruptly cutting off its life source will send it into shock and a fast downward spiral. 

In the big picture, root trimming is the process of bringing the plant back to the day you first put it in the ground. You are creating a self sustaining root ball that can be replanted with very little distress but, this takes time.

The best time to transplant is in the fall which means the trimming process needs to begin in the late spring to early summer. 

The first step is to assess what you are transplanting. If we are talking about trees, measure the diameter of the trunk 6 inches above the soil line.  A  1-inch trunk should have a root ball diameter of 18 inches and a 2-inch trunk should have a 28-inch root ball.

If we are talking about shrubs, A 3-foot-high shrub requires a minimum 14-inch diameter root ball, a 4-foot shrub, a 16-inch root ball and a 5-foot shrub, an 18-inch root ball.

Once you have the measurement, mark off the diameter around the tree or shrub and use your shovel to dig down around the line as far as the shovel will reach. The sound of crunching roots is exactly what you want to hear. By cutting these roots, you are stimulating the plant to create secondary root systems that will help minimize the shock of transplanting.  Every few weeks from spring to the time you transplant, use your shovel to go around your line to be sure no new roots are branching out beyond the root ball. It’s also important to keep the tree or shrub watered well to minimize stress especially in hot weather.

The transplanting should be done on a cool day in the fall, preferably with cloud cover. Once you have dug and prepared your new planting hole, use your shovel to dig down as far as possible around your root ball and lift the plant out of the hole. There will be roots at the bottom that you might not have been able to reach with your shovel and these will need to be cut. 

Move the plant to the new location as soon as possible. If it needs to sit unplanted for any reason be sure it’s in the shade and the root ball is watered. Once the tree or shrub has been replanted, treat it as you would any new planting, watering regularly and keeping an eye out for excessive stress.  It will take a year or two for any transplant to fully recover but following the steps of root trimming increase the odds of survival exponentially!