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Friday, October 9, 2015

How to Move Established Plants in the Landscape

Q. A one-year-old tree was relocated from the front to the backyard. After one day, it appears obviously stressed. It lost all of its leaves. Our landscaper put on a combo mixture that included B12. They didn't prune it. I always thought you should prune about a foot off in order to stimulate the roots. What do you suggest?

A. Trees that have been in the ground for 1 to 3 years should move to new locations easily provided it is properly done at the right time of the year.
            Yes, I would normally prune back a tree or shrub after relocating at. This is a very important step in transplanting to reduce transplant shock. The reason is not to stimulate roots but to bring a better balance between the severed roots and the canopy.
            Transplant trees and shrubs when temperatures are cooler. I looked at the air temperatures reported when you sent me this email. They were still over 100° F. We are approaching the right time of year for transplanting but those temperatures are still too high.
            The tree lost its leaves because the severed roots could no longer supply enough water to the canopy. The tree responded to this “transplant shock” by dropping its leaves. This was its defense mechanism to preserve its life.

What is transplants shock?

            Transplant shock can come in many forms. The most severe shock results in plant death. Dropping its leaves was the trees defense mechanism that hopefully will save its life. By dropping leaves, there may be enough water the roots can supply to keep the leafless tree alive.
            Successful transplanting of trees and shrubs results in minor transplant shock. Minor transplant shock results in little to no dropping of leaves but a slowing of growth for the next one or two growing seasons.
            Plants established with drip irrigation can exhibit almost no transplant shock because the roots of the plants are concentrated close to the drip emitters. This makes moving them to a new location much easier.

Some Tips for Transplanting

            Here are some steps to follow when transplanting trees and shrubs that are one to three years old. First, wait for the cool temperatures of fall. In our area this would be mid-October to about mid-November. Move these plants soon after an irrigation.
            Make sure the new planting hole has been dug and the soil used for transplanting has been amended with compost and a starter fertilizer before moving the plant. When moving the transplanted tree or shrub to its new location, it should be placed in the hole immediately, planted and watered.
Second, with a sharp, round-nosed shovel, sever the roots deeply all around the plant a distance 12 to 18 inches from the trunk or trunks. Estimate the weight and size of the root ball you will be moving. Take as much soil with the roots as you physically can handle regardless of the size of the plant. Larger root ball size decreases transplant shock.
Minimize the time plant roots are out of the soil. Move the plant to the new planting hole will by lifting under it, carrying it by its root ball. An old piece of carpet, burlap or strong fabric works well.
            Gently lower the tree or shrub into the planting hole so that it will be planted at the same depth it was previously. Fill the hole with amended soil while at the same time filling the hole with water from a hose.

Stake the plant so the roots cannot move in a strong wind. Remove about one third of the canopy with the pruning shears to reduce transplant shock.

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