How to Transplant a Shrub

All the tools needed for transplanting a shrub are gathered in a garden.

Gardening is a verb: this hobby is all about changing things up, learning from our mistakes, and seeing our aesthetic preferences evolve. This inevitably means you’ll be transplanting plenty of things over your time as a gardener, and that’s okay! Most shrubs can be easily transplanted. Hopefully, this quick eight-step how-to will make the process a little easier.  

Before you get your shovel out, though, consider whether it’s the right time of the year. The best seasons for transplanting are spring and fall because the temperatures are cooler and it’s easier for the plant to get re-established. It is possible to transplant at other times of the year, but spring and fall transplanting sets you up for success.

If the time of year is right, gather your materials and get started. You’ll need:

Shovel

Gloves

Wheelbarrow or tarp

Watering can or hose

Mulch

New plant if necessary*

Step One

A gardener prepares to transplant their shrub by digging the hole for its new home first.

Dig the hole in the new spot and make it about 1.5x the size of the rootball (just make your best guess). Pre-digging the hole means the plant will spend less time with its roots exposed.

Step Two

The mulch around the shrub that will be dug up and transplanted has been moved aside.

Push away any mulch or debris from beneath the plant you plan to move.
*If the shrub is really large, cut it back by up to 1/3 to save it some energy. 

Step Three

A gardener places a shovel outside of the rootball of the shrub that is going to be transplanted.

Dig up as much of the rootball as possible and try to keep a good amount of soil around the roots.

Step Four

Shrub and rootball still placed on shovel in a wheelbarrow ready to move to a new home.

Place into a wheelbarrow or onto a tarp to keep the rootball together and to retain as much soil as possible.

Step Five

A shrub in the middle of the transplanting process, where the gardener is checking to see if the depth of the hole vs. soil level is appropriate.

Take the plant to its new spot and see if the hole is actually big enough. Place the shrub in the hole and compare the soil level in the new spot to where it would hit the plant now. If the plant is too deep, add soil back into the hole.

Step Six

A gardener fills a planting hole back in with soil, gently firming it in as it fills up.

Position the plant and check that its overall habit is upright all the way around (not leaning to one side more than another). Start to fill the soil in around the rootball to keep it upright.

Step Seven

A newly transplanted shrub has a fresh layer of mulch and is thoroughly getting watered in.

As you fill the hole up with soil, keep pressing it down as you go. This prevents air pockets. When the soil level of the hole is even with the ground around it, apply a 2-3″ layer of mulch. Water the plant in thoroughly.

Step Eight

A garden with a freshly planted shrub in place of one that was just transplanted.

Keep a close eye on the soil moisture level around your new plant – as it recovers, it should not be allowed to dry out. Now, enjoy the view that you wanted to change! 

If you’re planting a new shrub and would like a quick how-to, check out this video.

If you still have questions about planting a shrub or have a helpful tip to add, comment below!

Written by
Kristina Howley

Kristina Howley

I am all in when it comes to gardening. Almost every part of the experience delights me – new leaves emerging in spring, pollinators buzzing in summer, birds devouring berries in fall, and the somber beauty of seed heads in winter. Thanks to a background in horticulture and gardening my own clay-filled, flowery USDA zone 5b plot, I’ve learned plenty of practical things as well. I like sharing these joys and lessons with my fellow gardeners and soon-to-be gardeners any way I can.

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8 Responses

  1. I like to remove the sod in the area where the new shrub or tree will be planted rather than trying to do it after planting. Transplants shouldn’t have to compete with weeds and turfgrass. Sometimes l water the ground a day before digging to make it easier to work with the soil. I hate the use of rings around the base of shrubs. It looks so unnatural.

  2. I have 3 little limes. I was told the stems are strong and will not flop over but that’s not the case with mine. There are flowers but not many leaves. They are facing east, definitely have morning sun til at least 1 pm. They are surrounded by azaleas at the back which has not reach the mature height of 4 ft yet, the front has 3 green nandina lemon lime which was put in ground same time as the little lime. Any suggestions you can provide will be greatly appreciated.

  3. I’m planting three Bobo hydrangeas next week. New from a nursery. I’m co fused on whether to use Bio-tone when I plant them, or wait until spring when I normally fertilize our hydrangeas. Zone 7 Georgia.

    1. We recommend that you do not fertilize at planting time – shrubs that are new from the nursery have been amply fertilized, and also have a time-released fertilizer incorporated into their soil. If you wish, you can fertilize in early spring, and fertilize up to once a month through late July.

  4. When you say you can fertilize once a month through July, what kind of fertilizer would be used? I use rose tone on my hydrangeas when they break dormancy, but I’m not sure if I should use that monthly after.

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