Plant in the wrong spot? Now's the time to move it

Alys Fowler
·3 min read
<span>Photograph: Alamy</span>
Photograph: Alamy

Perhaps it’s the lure of a shed of one’s own, and the only thing between you and it is that plum tree; or maybe that formerly cute blackcurrant bush is now taking over the path. We’ve all done it: planted something in the wrong spot and then found it needs moving.

It’s not ideal to move something that’s established, but it is not impossible. There is a window for deciduous trees and shrubs from now until around mid-March, when the first bud bursts. This is not true for evergreens, which need to wait until the growing season starts up, around April, when their roots are more readily able to take up water and nutrients. Move them now and all that leaf matter plus disturbed roots is a recipe for drying out and dying.

Deciduous shrubs denuded of their leaves are in a different position. They are dormant and thus, with care, can be taken from one bed and tucked into another with little trauma if you stick to a few rules.

Anything that’s been in the ground for less than a year will move fairly easily, as the roots are only just beginning to bed down. A 20-year-old apple tree is a different matter. It will need a specialist contractor, a prayer and a song – plus a small fortune – to do it. A good rule of thumb is not to attempt to move anything that is taller than you.

Prepare the new bed beforehand. If you have any horticultural sharp sand, add it to the planting pit, as this will encourage the fine new roots necessary for good establishment. Water the hole, filling it right to the top to ensure the soil is saturated. If the ground is wet, however, particularly if it has pooling water, wait for a drier day. Compaction from wet soil won’t help the move at all.

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The more roots that are intact, the more chance of a safe relocation. Roots tend to reach out to the edge of the plant’s canopy, so dig a trench roughly 30cm wide x 60cm deep around the edge of the rootball. Then undercut the roots with a spade. If you can’t slice the roots cleanly, use loppers to chop them. It may be hard to do this if there are other plants close by, but the bigger the rootball the better.

Do not shake the soil off the rootball. Use an old blanket or sacking under the roots to wrap them up if necessary. Replant as soon as possible after lifting; if you can’t, keep the rootball damp.

Add mycorrhizal fungi to the planting hole to aid root formation, and don’t forget to water if the soil dries out, particularly in the coming spring. Whatever you do, don’t bury the tree deeper than the original soil-line; if it doesn’t feel secure, use a stake, not more soil piled around its base.