Learn which plants thrive in your Hardiness Zone with our new interactive map!

How to Transplant Large Shrubs

By Jennifer Loucks ; Updated September 21, 2017
A shrub entering the dormant season.

When the need arises to transplant a large shrub, choose one with a height and spread less than 3 feet for best results. Transplant shrubs while they are in the dormant season to prevent damage to the root system and branch growth. Late winter is a good time to transplant, as it give the shrub the entire growing season to establish itself in the new location. Plant the shrub in a location with similar soil characteristics and light conditions for best results.

Apply water to the soil around the shrub two days prior to removing it for transplanting. Soak the soil to a depth of 10 to 14 inches to hydrate the root system. This will limit damage during the transplanting process.

Estimate the size of the shrub root ball by calculating 12 inches of root mass diameter for each one inch of stem diameter. A shrub with a 3-inch diameter stem will have an approximate 36-inch diameter root ball.

Note the direction the shrub is facing and hang a marker on the north side of the plant. Transplant the shrub so it is facing the same direction in the new location.

Remove the shrub by digging the root ball from the ground to a depth of 2 to 3 feet and width, using the calculated diameter in Step 2. Set the shrub root ball on a nylon tarp or burlap sheet and move it to the new location.

Dig a planting hole in the new location that is 12 inches wider and slightly deeper than the root ball. Mix an equal amount of organic compost into the removed soil to increase the nutrient content and water-draining properties.

Rough the walls of the hole with a shovel to increase the ability for root penetration and establishment. Set the shrub root ball into the hole so the top of the root ball is at ground level.

Pack the amended soil around the bottom half of the root ball. Fill the hole with water to compact the soil and limit air pockets. Pack soil into the remaining hole area once the water is absorbed into the surrounding soil.

Water the shrub generously after transplanting to moisten the soil to a depth of 10 to 14 inches. Apply water to the shrub daily for two weeks to assist with root establishment.


Things You Will Need

  • Water
  • Shovel
  • Tarp or burlap
  • Organic compost

About the Author


Jennifer Loucks has been writing since 1998. She previously worked as a technical writer for a software development company, creating software documentation, help documents and training curriculum. She now writes hobby-based articles on cooking, gardening, sewing and running. Loucks also trains for full marathons, half-marathons and shorter distance running. She holds a Bachelor of Science in animal science and business from University of Wisconsin-River Falls.