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How to Transplant Plants in the Spring

By Janet Belding ; Updated September 21, 2017
Hire a professional to move your tree or shrub if it is more than 5 to 6 feet tall.

The best time for transplanting trees, shrubs, roses and perennials is before their buds have swelled or the plants have leafed out in the early spring. Even so, moving a plant from one location to another will usually cause some form of transplant shock. A dire-sounding term, transplant shock can be as mild as a slower than normal growth rate or as severe as the drying of new leaves. The timing and the effects of transplanting are less critical when planting container-grown plants purchased from a nursery. It is probably best to hire a professional to transplant larger trees and shrubs, but moving smaller plants is certainly within your reach.

Trees and Shrubs

Water the tree or shrub well for several days before transplanting.

Dial 811 a few days before digging to arrange to have your utilities marked. The operator at your state's One-Call Center will take your information and contact the utility companies to mark your lines.

Choose a site that is safely away from your marked utilities and that fits the requirements of the plant. Take into consideration the best light exposure, soil type, moisture retention and weather exposure for the type of tree or shrub that you are transplanting.

Dig down with the sharp spade and get as much of the root ball as possible. Jim Kohut of Northscaping, a Canadian gardening website, recommends digging a root ball that is the diameter of a third to half the height of a tree. For shrubs, dig a root ball two thirds of the diameter of its branch spread.

Transplant the tree or shrub as soon as possible. Dig a hole that is 1 1/2 times as deep as the root ball and twice as wide as its diameter.

Add the planting mix into the hole and the root-boosting product according to label directions, and mix with the existing soil. Tamp down the mixture lightly with your feet and water it.

Place the tree or shrub into the hole. If your plant is in a container from the nursery, take it out of the pot, loosen any tight roots and place the plant the hole. Backfill with soil, tamping the soil gently and adjusting the plant until the soil level is where it was when the plant was in its previous location.

Water thoroughly. Deeply water approximately every two weeks if the weather has been dry. Check 4 inches down into the soil next to the plant. If you feel moisture, then the plant does not need water.


Transplant roses in the spring before they have leafed out.

Choose a new site for your rose that is in the full sun, has well-drained soil that will retain some moisture, and is somewhat protected. Turn over the soil and compost and mix well.

Prune back all but four canes or stems of your rose bush. The four canes should be thick and open.

Cut the canes back to approximately 18 inches.

Dig deep enough to get as much of the root ball as possible. Lift the rose, being careful not to injure the thick area at the base of the rose where it was grafted on to its rootstock. If the rose is container-grown, take it out of its pot and loosen and trim any roots that are tight in the pot.

Dig a hole in the new location. The depth should be 1 1/2 times the depth of the root ball and twice as wide.

Set the plant in the hole so it will be at the same level as it was in the old location. Landscape designer Andrew Schulman writing for the Fine Gardening website recommends backfilling the hole halfway with the soil, the organic material and a "handful" of superphosphate. Water the soil thoroughly and allow it to drain.

Finish backfilling. Tamp the soil down gently and adjust the rose as you go until the soil is at the level of the surrounding ground. Water the rose approximately 2 gallons and let the water drain. Repeat once. Check for water throughout the growing season. Water once a week if the weather has been dry.


Perennials recover from transplant shock very quickly.

Choose a site that fits your perennials cultural needs of light and soil type. Turn over the soil, add compost and mix together.

Trim back any old foliage from your plant. Place your shovel several inches away from the base of the plant and dig down 8 to 10 inches to get under the rootball. Lift out the plant.

Dig a hole in the new location 8 to 10 inches deeper than the root ball and twice as wide.

Add planting mix in the hole and mix in some of the existing soil. Water the mixture.

Place the plant in the hole and backfill until the soil reaches the same level it was in the plant's former location. Water the plant with approximately 1 gallon of water, let the water drain and repeat once. Keep the plant adequately watered during the first season.


Things You Will Need

  • Sharp spade
  • Water source such as a hose
  • Gallon container
  • Planting mix
  • Bonemeal or other root-boosting fertilizer
  • Superphosphate (for transplanting roses)
  • Shovel
  • Garden pruners


  • Container plants adjust much more quickly than already established plants.
  • Perennials can be successfully transplanted while actively growing.
  • Don't be concerned if the soil falls away when you are transplanting your rose. Roses are often shipped bare root for planting.
  • Give your plants time to adjust before becoming concerned about their condition. Transplanted trees may take a year to adjust.


  • Evergreens do not like to be moved, and transplanting them can be difficult. Attempt this in late fall.
  • If too many roots are damaged at the edges of a plant's root ball, they may not be able to take up water and nutrients. The plant will take longer to adjust to the new location.

About the Author


Janet Belding has been writing for over 22 years. She has had nonfiction pieces published in "The Boston Globe," "The Cape Cod Times" and other local publications. She is a writer for the guidebook "Cape Cod Pride Pages." Her fiction has been published in "Glimmer Train Stories." She has a degree in English from the University of Vermont.