Early spring is a great time for transplanting trees
and shrubs, but you must do so before they wake up.
Transplanting a plant is a very traumatic experience for the
plant if it is awake. It’s like doing surgery on a person
while they are awake.
Dormancy starts in the fall as soon as you experience a
good hard freeze, and the plants remain dormant until the
weather warms up in the spring. This is when you should
transplant, while the plants are dormant. You can transplant
in the spring up until the plants leaf out. When the buds are
green and swollen you are usually safe to still transplant, but
once the leaf develops, you should wait until fall.
When transplanting you can dig the shrubs out bare
root, just make sure they are out of the ground for as short a
time as possible, and keep the roots damp while out of the
ground. Make sure there are no air pockets around the roots
when you replant them. When possible, it is always better to
dig a ball of earth with the plants when you transplant them.
The rule of thumb is 12” of root ball for every 1” of
stem caliper. If the diameter of the stem of a tree is 2”,
then you should dig a root ball 24” in diameter.
Don’t be afraid of cutting a few roots when you
transplant. Just try not to cut them any shorter than the
above guidelines allow. Cutting the roots will actually help
to reinvigorate the plant. It’s a process simply known as root
When the roots are severed, the plant then develops
lateral roots to make up for what is lost. These lateral roots
are more fibrous in nature, and have more ability to pick up
water and nutrients. Some nurseries drive tractors over the
plants in the field with a device that under cuts the roots of
the plant just to force the plant to develop more fibrous
roots. This make transplanting the plant the following year
much more successful, and makes for a stronger and healthier
The old timers root pruned by hand by forcing a spade
in the ground around their plants. If you have a plant in your
landscape that is doing poorly, a little root pruning while the
plant is dormant could bring it around. It’s worth the effort.
If you have questions for Mike McGroarty visit his website,
http://www.freeplants.com and post them on the message board
where you can learn lots of gardening tips and communicate with
other gardeners. While at his website you can learn how to
start your own profitable backyard nursery. If you would like
a copy of Mike’s booklet, “The Secret of Growing Landscape
Plants from Scratch”, send $4.00 to: Garden Secrets, P.O. Box
338, Perry, Ohio 44081.