The slow-growing common camellia (Camellia japonica) is a broad-leaf evergreen shrub admired for its dark green glossy leaves and breathtaking display of waxy, rose-like flowers in the chill of winter. Transplanting camellia can range from relatively easy to quite challenging with regard to successfully keeping the plant alive. Smaller, younger plants are significantly easier to transplant and nurse into healthy plants. Large, older shrubs or small camellia trees should be root pruned a year in advance to the transplanting procedure. All camellias must not be replanted too deeply and not over-watered.
Transplanting a Small/Young Shrub
Pierce the top soil around the base of a small-sized or young camellia bush with a garden shovel. You are cutting the roots of the shrub prior to digging the entire root ball up, so make this outline cut with the shovel no closer to the trunk than the natural width of the branches. For example, if the camellia is on average about 2 feet wide, make the cutting of the roots no closer than 12 inches around the trunk.
Preserve as much of the natural root ball of the camellia as possible. Wedge the blade of the shovel downward and at an angle towards the bottom center of the camellia's root zone. You will likely cut more roots, including a taproot below the trunk. Refrain from jostling the shrub too much and do not chop away soil from the root ball.
Continue wedging the shovel blade down and under the root ball so that these deeper cuts are made around the entire round of the root ball. As more of the root ball is cut, the resistance on the shovel when piercing and lift under the root ball should diminish. Re-visit parts of the root ball where resistance is higher and again wedge the shovel in an effort to cut the last roots in order to free the root ball.
Place a canvas or plastic tarp alongside the camellia when it is ready to be removed from the hole. Gently and evenly lift the root ball, supporting the trunk base and slide it onto the adjacent tarp. Try to keep as much soil on the root ball as possible.
Drag the tarp with the camellia and root ball on it to the new location where it is to be transplanted. Or, gather the edges of the tarp around the root ball so it is snug and lift and carry the plant to the new planting site. Be gentle as you do not wish to jar loose soil that is remaining attached to this free root ball.
Open the tarp to view the root ball. Measure the depth and width of the existing root ball. These are the dimensions required to guide you in digging the hole in the new location.
Dig the hole twice as wide as the camellia's root ball and the same depth or 1 to 2 inches shallower than the root ball's depth. If you native soils are sandy, make the hole the same depth as the root ball, and slightly shallower as mentioned in soils that are heavy loam or clay.
Gently slide or lift the root ball into the hole, orienting it so it looks more attractive with a handsomely shaped side facing where it can be best viewed. Again, try to prevent soil from jarring loose from the root ball during the movement and planting.
Replace soil into the hole around the root ball. Double-check to ensure the root ball is at the correct depth in the hole as you begin adding more and more soil. Push soil under the root ball to raise it if the top of the root ball is not even or slightly higher than the edge of the hole.
Continue adding soil under the hole is filled and tapered around the newly planted camellia. Add a gentle sprinkle of irrigation water to wet the soil and gently compact the soil around the roots. This watering eliminates air pockets in the soil.
Place a 2 inch layer or organic mulch around the area planted, keeping the mulch about 4 to 6 inches away from the trunk of the camellia. This mulch will help keep the soil and root ball moist and cool.
Water the transplanted camellia as needed, making sure the soil never becomes wet or soggy after waterings. Touch the soil with your fingers to feel if the soil is moist, wet or slightly dry. Add water when the soil feels slightly dry. The amount of water to add varies on the soil type and how quickly it soaks in. In a fast-draining sandy soil, add 2 to 3 gallons of water per watering, while clay soils may need 3 to 4 gallons added over a longer period as it slowly seeps into the soil.
Monitor the soil moisture for 6 to 12 months after transplanting to ensure the camellia's roots are exposed to as favorable growing conditions as possible to establish.
Consider fertilizing the plant only after 3 months has passed since the transplanting event and if the season at the time is spring or summer. Follow product label directions for the dosage recommendations.
Transplanting Large Shrubs
Dig a small ditch around the camellia shrub one year prior to the scheduled transplanting. The ditch should be about 12 inches wide and deep and extend in a circle around the shrub at the drip-line, where the branch ends extend outward from the trunk.
Fill the ditch with sand, peat or well-cured compost.
Resume the usual watering schedule and maintenance of the camellia, allowing new roots to grow into the ditch for the remainder of the year.
Dig into the ditch after one year to expose the new roots and begin to excavate the remainder of the root ball of the large camellia.
Follow Steps 2 through 14 in the above section, "Transplanting a Small/Young Shrub". The size and labor needed to complete the transplanting of a large-sized, older camellia likely requires heavy machinery or the hiring of considerable numbers of experienced landscape laborers.