How to move a shrub

Martyn Cox

Is a shrub getting in your way or does it grow poorly because it's been planted in the wrong part of the garden? Then why not carefully excavate the rootball and transport it to a new home where it will thrive?

Young shrubs are very easy to move, but with a little bit of effort you can even transplant larger plants. Apart from enabling you to change the look of your garden, this is an ideal technique to use if you are planning on moving home and want to take a favourite plant or two with you.

When to move a shrub

Sometimes you have no choice on when you move a shrub but, ideally, evergreen plants should be moved in spring, when they are entering their growing season. At this time the roots can easily draw up water and nutrients from the warming soil, helping the shrub to re-establish in its new home quickly. If it is moved in winter, while dormant, the shrub would not take up any water from the soil and suffer a check to its growth. If possible, deciduous shrubs should be moved in winter, while they are dormant.

Digging a rootball

Start by digging a wide circular trench around a plant, using the outermost extent of the branches as a guide – this will ensure the maximum amount of roots are left unscathed. However, don’t worry about cutting through some roots. It’s largely unavoidable and won’t do the plant any harm.

Aim to dig down to about the depth of the spade’s blade (you may need to go deeper with bigger plants, but be guided by the root system), then work around the trench, cutting inwards with your spade until the shrub is free – you may need to slice through thick roots with your spade or even use a hand-held pruning saw.

While small shrubs are easily removed by one pair of hands, if you have a large plant, it is likely to result in a sizeable rootball. Not only will this be awkward and heavy to move, but the digging is going to be hard work. This is a job best done by two people.


It’s essential that the rootball is kept damp once it has been lifted from the ground and replanting should take place as soon as possible.

Dig a hole deep enough and wide enough for the rootball, and ensure it is planted at the same depth as before. Water regularly until it has re-established, especially during hot and dry periods.

If you are moving house and want to take a plant with you, or if planting is delayed, soak the rootball with water, then wrap securely in plastic or hessian to prevent it from drying out.

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The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.