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Transplanting Trees in the Fall

February 8, 2022 Jill Raver
Filed in: Fall Planting Guides
fall landscape - transplanting trees in fall


The key to successfully moving a plant or tree is less stress on the plant. Transplanting trees in the fall means comfortable temperatures and more.



Transplanting Trees in Fall

The best time of the year to transplant trees and plants is autumn. This is because of cool temperatures and warm moist soil. Plants also require less energy as they begin to enter the early stages of dormancy. They are no longer focusing on above ground growth. This is perfect for root establishment which is just what you want.

Transplanting trees in fall gives your plant plenty of time to be thoroughly established and ready for the heat of summer.

transplanting shrubs

What Trees Can I Transplant in Fall?

You can actually transplant just about anything in fall. So go for it. Whether it’s an evergreen tree, shade tree, flowering tree, a shrub, or a perennial, autumn is an excellent time to relocate you favorite plants.

Why Transplant

  • You’re moving and you want to take your beloved Japanese Maple tree or azalea.
  • Your trees or shrubs have grown larger than anticipated.
  • Your plant isn’t thriving because of unfavorable conditions. The area may be too sunny or shady or wet, but you have the perfect spot in another location of the yard.
  • You love the plant, but not the location. You need the spot for an addition or a deck.

How to Transplant Trees and Shrubs in Fall

how to transplant trees and shrubs

*Keeping as many roots intact as possible is integral to a successful transplant.*

  1. The general rule of thumb for trees and shrubs is multiply your trunk diameter by at least 10. So if you have a 1 inch trunk, be sure to dig up at least 10 inches of roots in width. You can mark your area to dig by using a string measured using the above formula. Attach the string loosely to the trunk and tie a stick or ruler to the other end and trace around in a circle.
  2. Next, take a shovel or spade and slice through the roots all around your defined circle. If you turn your chosen tool backwards it makes it easier to dig vertically instead of at an angle, like we tend to do when digging normally.
  3.  After cutting your roots, dig a trench all around your sliced circle. Your trench should be close to 1 foot wide and deeper than the root ball by a couple inches. Work in the trench and under the rootball to excavate the plant. Generally the bulk of the roots are going to be within 18” of the surface even with larger trees.
  4. Put the newly dug plant on a tarp to easily drag it to its new spot or hoist it onto a hand cart or wheelbarrow if you’re working with a larger tree.
  5. Plant your newly located shrub or tree following our planting directions. Basically, you want to plant it just like any new plant, but keep a couple important things in mind:
    • Plant your transplanted tree right away. Be sure to have enough time to get it dug and planted on the same day.
    • Tamp down your soil to get out air pockets, but don’t overdo it by stomping on the soil. Overly compacted soil makes it difficult for roots to grow.
    • Watering is crucial, just like it is when you buy a new plant. Stick to a deep watering schedule. Your plant’s roots need to establish all over again even in the same soil and area.
planting a tree

How to Transplant Perennials in Fall

The only perennials not recommended for a fall move are autumn bloomers. These are best to transplant in spring, but really with plenty of water to help prevent shock even fall bloomers can be moved in autumn.

The directions are similar to shrubs and trees, but you don’t have a trunk to guesstimate the root ball size. The good thing is that perennials tend to be able to handle a good bit of root loss so you don’t have to be exact. At the same time the more roots kept intact the less stress to the plant. And...the less stress the more success! In general I would probably dig a bit less than the width of the plant and about a shovel deep. With bigger perennials go ahead and use the trench method like with shrubs and trees. With smaller perennials just scoop the roots up with a shovel. You will cause less stress by cutting out the roots like in the tree and shrub method rather than just scooping the uncut plant which will tear the roots.

Once you get your plant dug up, replant it as quickly as possible and follow our planting directions.

Many professionals recommend pruning your perennials back before transplanting. This is definitely something that would help concentrate the growth even more so to the roots. In fall if your perennial is starting to look meh as is typical go ahead and just trim it back. But if you really want to try and enjoy this plant for as long as possible just skip this step. You can always cut it back later if necessary.

Final Tips for Your Transplanting Success

Remember, this is like starting all over again for your plant, so it does need extra care. The good thing is establishment tends to occur quicker because the plant is dealing with all the same conditions and similar soil, if on the same property.

  1. Water is key. Fill your new hole with water even before you place your freshly dug plant in the hole. Once you backfill the soil, water again until the ground can’t hold anymore water. Water deeply at least twice a week for the first few weeks to help those roots grow deep and strong and establish quickly.
  2. Do NOT plant too deep. This is the number 2 reason (after under watering) that new and transplanted plants fail to thrive. The top of the root ball should be right at or slightly above the soil line.
  3. Mulch. Mulching with about 2 inches of mulch will hold in moisture and protect the roots from equipment damage, sun, and cold temperatures. It will keep grasses and weeds from stealing water and nutrients from your plant.

The less stress the more success! Now have no fear and go ahead and tackle some fall transplanting. Tree planting and transplanting should be pleasant. Enjoy the perfect temps for some (much less) sweaty shovel work!

transplanting a tree in the fall

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