by Michael J. McGroarty -
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. Itís 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 12Ē of root ball for every 1Ē of stem
caliper. If the diameter of the stem of a tree is 2Ē, then
you should dig a root ball 24Ē in diameter.
Click here to learn how to ball and burlap dig a plant.
Donít 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. Itís a process simply known as root
pruning. 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 plant.
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. Itís worth the
Michael J. McGroarty is the author of this article. Visit
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