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Timing is key to fall transplants
Rip Winkel

Last week we covered the fall planting of trees and shrubs that come in containers. If, however, you are transplanting a tree or shrub from one location in your yard to another, fall is also a great time to take on this project. The first thing to remember is to wait until the plants in question begin losing their leaves for winter, that is, if they’re deciduous.  Below is a list of procedures, or a guide if you will, for transplanting procedures.

1) Before you begin, determine if the plant you are going to transplant will do well in the new location. Ask yourself if it will get too much sun or shade, will have enough space to grow as it matures, and how much water it is going to require. Also keep in mind whether or not there are local, city or state codes that would determine the location of the transplant.

2) Be sure to dig the new hole before you dig up the plant that will be relocated. Remember, be ready to get the plant out of the ground, and back in as soon as possible. The longer it is out of the ground, the less of a chance for its survival. Your tree will lose a significant amount of its root system during transplanting. So make sure it’s well-hydrated before the transplanting process begins.

3) When the digging commences, do not start right at the base of the tree or shrub. Rather, start digging about 3 feet out from the base, all along the perimeter. Get a feel for where the main mass of roots lies. Also think about what the weight of the plant, roots and soil clinging to roots will be. You might need some help to lift it. Tie up any low hanging branches to prevent damage to them while the tree/shrub is being dug. Use a sharp shovel to make clean cuts in the root system to prevent further damage. One standard for the size of the root ball of a tree is to have at least 10 inches radius and depth of the root ball for every 1 inch of trunk diameter. Shrubs should have 10 inches out from the base of the plant for every 18 inches of height.

4) The width of the new hole should be twice that of the root-ball. The depth should be kept a bit shallower, to avoid puddling and consequent rotting (especially if your soil has a lot of clay in it). When you reach the bottom of the new hole, resist the temptation to break up the soil beneath, as this may cause the plant to sink deeper later on.

5) Once you have removed enough soil from around the sides of the plant, you will eventually be able to slip your shovel under it and begin to loosen the plant’s grip on the soil below it. After it is loose, spread a tarp on the ground nearby and gently move the tree or shrub onto the tarp.

6) Drag the plant over to the new hole using the tarp as a transporting medium. Carefully slide the plant into the hole, and then set it straight. Shovel the excavated soil back into the hole all around the root ball. Place the hose into the hole, and water it as you are back filling it. This will help to eliminate air pockets, and allow good contact between the root ball and the surrounding soil. 

7) Mound up the soil in a ring around the newly transplanted tree or shrub, forming a berm that will hold water like a basin. This will help keep the new transplant’s roots well-watered, until it becomes established.


Rip Winkel is the Horticulture agent with K-State Research and Extension – Cottonwood District. Contact him by email at or call either 785-682-9430, or 620-793-1910.