How to transplant a plant at the wrong time of year

Transplanting plants is best done during their dormant season;normally the winter months. Impatient inspiration; or, as in my case, it being the day job often necessitates this being done whilst they are actively growing. This week part of the day job required the moving of a fairly mature rhododendron. It reminded of when I was a student at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and we moved the entire rhododendron collection from one part of the Garden to another. Not only was I much younger, but we were mob handed with tractors etc. today it was just 50+year old me with determined will power.

I decided to record the stages as I felt it would be useful to readers who may be considering moving or planting a tree, shrub or herbaceous perennial in active growth and wanting to reduce the risk of losing it. The first job was to cut down and dig out two existing conifers; a task in itself. At least it created the hole for the rhododendron.


Thick roots make digging out mature plants a bit time consuming

Thoroughly watering any plant the day before it is to be moved, allows excess moisture to drain away before digging out the next day, avoiding a muddy dig and reducing the stress of drying out on the roots. Since it rained heavily the whole week before, I decided the roots would be sufficiently moist.  To make it easier to get access to the roots and save the rhododendron from working too hard; to pump water round the plant once moved, I cut back some of the fading flower shoots.  The next step was to dig a trench around the shrub ensuring sufficient roots remain.


Rhododendron before moving preparation


Rhododendron after moving preparation

Before I stopped for a lunch I filled the hole where the rhododendron was to go with water which would give it time to soak into the soil.


Managing to spin the rhododendron out of the hole onto an old bulk bag allowed me to drag it its new position without damaging the top growth or disturbing the further.


Not an easy drag for an older boy

Rhododendrons do not like their roots buried too deep and I calculated the required depth and size of the hole perfectly. Experience! After back filling the hole by half, pushing the soil in under the roots by hand to keep the roots high and prevent unnecessary damage I refilled the hole with water before finishing the adding the last of the soil.



Not allowing moved plants to dry out is essential

I did not add any organic matter as there was enough organic debris from the conifers which had been dug out. The most important job now was for my customers; stopping the plant from drying out until it has established; indicated by it starting to put on significant growth. I recommend novice transplanters to start off with a small plant first and work their way up from there.


Newly laid turf adds the finishing touches

One thought on “How to transplant a plant at the wrong time of year

  1. Hello John,

    I loved reading about the transplant. Sending it onto Dad tonight too! I have been watering religiously I promise. We have been blessed with rain, but despite thus I have been focused! Did a little pruning myself and made a few mistakes, but I guess this is the only way to learn!

    Take care. And looking forward to seeing you soon.

    PS I have arranged for a mirror to be put in between the yews!

    Cathy M x

    Sent from my iPad



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