How to Transplant an Established Shrub in the Garden with Pots & Trowels

If you’ve got an established shrub in your garden that you want to keep and develop, but it’s just not in the right place, don’t fret! You can still move it to where it’d be better suited in the garden.

In a recent Pots & Trowels video, Martin Fish tackled a hibiscus in his new garden – he likes it and wants to keep it, but it’d be better sited in the border. You can watch the video below, or keep reading for all the advice, tips and tricks you need to transplant your established shrub into a new location.

When should you move an established shrub?

December through until about the end of February is the perfect time to do it if you’re moving any deciduous plants like this and digging it up and transplanting them somewhere else, as they need to be moved when they’re dormant, when the leaves have fallen off, and before they start to wake up in spring.

How to transplant an established shrub

Before you start attempting to transplant your shrub, decide on where you want to move your plant and dig out a hole for it in its new home. It’s okay if you don’t quite know exactly what size you need yet, it’s better for it to be too big than too small. Be sure to loosen up the soil in the hole a bit so that the roots can continue to grow through and grow down into the space.

You need to get a big root ball with your shrub. The more root you can get on something as big as a shrub the better, as you need a root system that will be able sustain it once you’ve transplanted it.

Grab a spade (a narrow spade is particularly useful for this) and dig a trench all around the bottom of your shrub and around the root ball. Once you’ve dug the trench, mine underneath the root ball to ensure you can get the shrub out with lots and lots of roots.

You should now have dug a doughnut-like shape around it. You may have had to cut through some of the roots with your spade to do so (this doesn’t matter too much as there will be enough root fibres in your root ball), so it’s a good idea to also grab your loppers to make sure that any root you’ve chopped with a spade has got a nice clean cut, especially on some of the bigger ones. It’s not so much of a problem with the little ones, but give anything that’s got a bit of size a quick snip so that it’s got a nice clean edge and will heal. If you’ve got any big beastly roots then sever those off with your loppers too instead of attempting to dig it out of the ground.

Now that you’ve worked all around the sides, the next step is to undermine your root ball. Get your spade at an angle and chop into the bottom of it, working your way around it. Once you’ve got so far, you can give it a bit of a lever with the spade to see if it’s moving, and keep working around until you’ve dug the root ball out from the ground. If you’ve got another person handy to help move the shrub slightly while you check that the roots are properly freed from the ground then that’s a bonus.

Now it’s time to grab your shrub – if it’s too heavy you might need to just take a little bit more soil off, or get a friend to help – and pop the root ball into the new hole. Position it so that the flat side (if it has one) is facing a fence (if applicable) or is facing the back of where you’re transplanting and the correct side that you want to be on display is facing outwards.

You want to plant your shrub nice and level, so hold it in place, get your spade and start to fill in the hole. Ideally your root ball should have room all the way around it so it’s not crammed in the hole, and there’s room for those fibrous roots when they grow to grow out without any hindrance. You also want to check the soil level, so that you’re not lifting up your shrub any higher than it needs to be or are planting it at a steeper level – within an inch or two is fine. You can check the levels by laying your spade across the hole.

Start to backfill the soil – again this is where you really could just do with somebody holding it in place for you while you do this. Don’t fill it completely yet, just put a little bit of soil around it and then give it a bit of a wiggle so that it finds its way down. At this point, you can use your foot to give the soil a light firm evenly all the way round before carrying on and filling it more.


Once you’ve got that first bit of soil in and you’ve got it roughly level, just keep putting the soil in in layers. Then, making sure you’re holding it in the position you want it, go around and use your heel all the way around to give it a good firming in, don’t just give it a little tap as that isn’t going to be enough. If you do that, as soon as it rains and the wind blows, then it will just loosen it again, so it does need to be in contact with the soil nice and firmly all the way around. At this point it should now feel more stable in the ground, so add a little bit more soil to finish it off. Don’t add any fertiliser in at this stage as there’ll be enough nutrients in the soil, but give it a general feed in the spring when it starts to grow. Give it another good firming in with the heel of your shoe, then finish off with a garden fork to get the soil nice and level. If you’d like, you can add a bit of garden compost as a mulch around the bottom so that the worms will take it down over the winter and help to get those roots growing.

Now that your shrub is in its new home, hopefully it’ll be much happier here and look better than it was in its original spot. All you’ve got to do now is decide what to do with the original hole!

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