How to Move a Shrub (Without Killing It)?

Ever had a shrub or bush that just wasn’t cutting it in its current location?  Maybe it’s not getting enough sunlight, or you want to use the space to plant new vegetation. Either way, you’ll need to take care to move a shrub without killing it.

Shrubs, bushes, and other plants generally don’t like to be uprooted and moved from one location to another. With that said, a little planning and preparation can make the process fairly painless – and won’t lead to a sad-looking dead shrub!

Successful transplanting a shrub depends on a number of different factors, including the species, time of year, how long it’s left outside of the soil, and how healthy the plant is to begin with. Let’s take a look at the best ways to move a move shrub without killing it in more detail.

Transplanting a Shrub Without Killing It – Guide

Before you start tearing up your yard or garden, you’ll want to consider the odds of a successful transplant.

If a plant is struggling in its current location or is encroaching on other nearby plants, then a move is pretty much inevitable. Younger plants tend to transplant much easier than well-established shrubs that have been growing for many years.

fresh planted shrubs
Some freshly planted shrubs [source].
Also, consider the time of year when planning out a transplant. The best time to move a shrub without killing it is in the early spring or fall. This provides a nice moderate temperature for the plant to acclimate to its new environment. Also, the root systems are less active at this time, so damaging them a little during transport won’t result in disaster.

So, what do you need to move your shrub?

Tools & Materials Needed

Step 1: Water the Shrub Heavily

The night before you plan to dig up the shrub, you’ll want to give it a thorough watering for several hours. This will give the plant plenty of water so it won’t dry out during the moving process.

Heavily watering the soil also makes the soil softer and easier to dig up. Watered plants are also easier to dig up without severing too many roots.

Step 2 (Optional): Tie up Branches

Depending on the type of shrub you’re dealing with, you may want to tie up the low-hanging branches so they won’t be damaged during the transport process.

Alternatively, you can also trim the lower branches back – which will help the plant conserve its energy for healing later on.

Step 3: Dig a Drip Line

A drip line is essentially a small trench dug around the base of the shrub. It allows you to loosen the root ball from the earth by prying it free, rather than digging the entire thing out.

Use a hand trowel to dig at least a 6-inch deep trench around the perimeter. For larger shrubs, you may need to go down a foot or more. The diameter of the drip line should be about 2/3 the diameter of the branch spread.

As you dig you may encounter some roots that need to be cut – don’t worry too much about these.

Step 4: Pry the Shrub Free

Now, use a large flat spade to pry the root ball free of the earth. You may need to sever some of the roots as you do this. Try to cut the roots straight across rather than jagged when possible.

As you dig, try to keep the soil attached to the root ball in place. Removing it will expose the roots to the elements and can dry them out rapidly.

Step 5: Prep and Transport Shrub

If you’re just moving the shrub from one side of the yard to the other, then you won’t need to do much prep. On the other hand, if you’re throwing it in the back of a truck for a longer move, you’ll want to use something to protect the roots and leaves from damage.

One effective way to protect the root ball is by wrapping it in a tarp or burlap sack. You may also need to tie up the branches to protect them as well.

Step 6: Replant your Shrub

When you’ve got your new planting location dug up and ready, give it a thorough watering before transplanting. Then place your shrub inside the hole, fill it with soil until the root ball is completely covered, and give it another watering.

shrub after transport
Your shrub might look a little droopy after transplanting, but keep on watering and it should recover.

In the days that follow make sure to water it regularly. Some or all of the leaves may fall off the shrub (depending on the species) after transplanting. This doesn’t mean it’s dead or dying – it’s just in shock from being moved.

Keep in mind it’s best to re-plant your shrub as soon as possible after digging it up. The longer it stays out of the ground – the lower the chances to move the shrub without killing it.

Sometimes you don’t want to dig up and move the entire bush, but still want to propagate your existing plant. Check out my post on how to grow rose bushes from cuttings to learn more.

If transplanting isn’t an option check out my post on how to clear land of shrubs and small trees.

Featured image [source]

Denis Gardner

I've loved tinkering and fixing things for as long as I can remember. So, naturally, I gravitated towards DIY and home improvement when I bought my first home. Nowadays you can find me writing about my passions or messing around with my newest tool!

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