Plan the perfect garden with our interactive tool →

How to Transplant Flowering Bushes

Flowering bushes and shrubs add beauty to the landscape. Spirea and azalea burst with spectacular blooms for a short time each spring, while hydrangea bushes display large blooms for an extended period from summer into early fall. Whether you are transplanting a flowering bush from a container or are digging up an already planted bush for relocation, the best time to transplant is when the ground is workable and the plant is not blooming or recovering after blooming.

Choose a well-drained location where sun levels match requirements for each bush. Some flowering bushes like Bridal Wreath Spirea, Glossy Abelia, butterfly bush, burning bush, forsythia and lilac can handle full sun to partial shade. Azalea, camellia and rhododendron prefer partial shade or dappled sunshine, while hydrangea and Daphne Carol Mackie can take full sun but need afternoon shade.

Dig the hole as deep as the container or rootball and twice as wide. Place the dirt in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp for ease in mixing in organic matter. When transplanting an already planted bush, water it well 24 to 48 hours before transplanting. To dig up an already planted bush, measure the width of the branches' spread. Dig around the stem 1/4 of the width of the bush and dig down roughly 1/2 of the width. As an example, for a bush 24 inches wide, start digging 6 inches from the stem and dig 12 inches down. The completed circle around the bush will create a root ball of about 12 inches in diameter and depth.

Get as much of the root system as you can. Lean the bush to the side and work a tarp (or something like a shower curtain or old sheet folded in half) beneath the bush to temporarily wrap the root ball. Snip long roots that may prevent the root ball from being removed from the hole.

Mix in about 25 percent organic matter like compost or leaf mold with the soil removed from the planting hole.

Remove the bush from the container and center it in the hole. If planting a push with a temporary wrap, place the bush in the hole with the wrap still in place. Tip the bush to the side to work the wrap beneath the bush; tip the opposite direction to pull out the wrap. Backfill the hole halfway up the root ball and then water around the bush to settle the soil. Finish backfilling the hole and water again.

Apply 2 to 3 inches of mulch. Water every 7 to 10 days into late fall if there is no rainfall. Prune any branches broken during the transplanting process or to balance the shape of the bush.


Younger bushes (fewer than three years in the ground) have a greater chance of survival when transplanted from one location to another as their root system will be more confined.

Garden Guides