Can I Transplant This Fall?

November 10, 2010 | By | Comments (14)


Three questions consume America’s thoughts right now.

1. Is Christine O’Donnell a witch?

2. Has Rick Sanchez’s IQ ever approached his body temperature?

3. Is fall a good time to transplant?

The answers are, in order: Yes, no, and yes.

I’m guessing most of you already knew the answers to the first two questions. No surprises there. But lots of people still ask Grumpy if transplanting trees, shrubs, and perennials in fall will kill their plants. The answer is: no, not if you do it correctly. In fact, for many plants, fall is the best time to transplant.

Think of digging up a plant as if you were on surgical table having a lung removed. Would you like to be conscious during the whole thing? No, you would not. Well, plants don’t like to be awake during surgery either. They prefer to be in a dormant state while transplanted to minimize shock and the length of time they scream their little heads off.

How can you tell when they’re dormant? A good sign is when deciduous plants lose their leaves in fall. If what you’ve moving is evergreen, this is still a good sign.

Of course, just because the above-ground part of a plant is dormant doesn’t mean the roots are too. Here in the South, where the ground doesn’t freeze, roots continue to grow in winter. By transplanting in fall, therefore, you give the roots an extra 3-4 months to adjust to their new home before new leaves start making demands on them in spring. Result — a happier plant next year.

Transplanting Do’s & Don’ts

DO try to minimize the loss of roots while transplanting. If this means digging a big, heavy root ball, get somebody to help you. The more roots you take, the more growth your plant will make.

DO dig the new hole as least twice as wide as the root mass you’re moving, but DON’T dig it any deeper. Planting too deeply kills many plants. Then fill in around the roots with loose soil, tamp the soil to firm it, and water thoroughly to settle the soil and remove air pockets.

DON’T amend the soil with peat moss, “top soil,” bark, or compost if you’re transplanting a tree or large shrub. Think about it. Those roots are supposed to spread way beyond the confines of the original hole. If you make the hole too comfy, they’ll stay where they are, and the plant will just sit there, vulnerable to drought and stress.

Good Things to Transplant Now

1. Crepe myrtle

2. Azalea

3. Boxwood

4. Heart’s-a-busting

5. Lungwort

6. Liverwort

7. Spleenwort

8. Bladderwort

9. Voldemort

10. Andy Rooney



  1. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Wheeze, choke, guffaw, howl, fighting back tears…….actually, I don’t think there is anything wrong with dumping dog food in the hole, as long as your dog doesn’t get mad and bite you or drag your pizza under the sofa. Dog food just turns into organic matter — just like it would if Fido ate it.

    December 7, 2010 at 3:11 pm
  2. Anonymous today

    Ok, don’t laugh…but a very long time ago, I read a garden article that recommended putting dry dog food in the very bottom of the planting hole. The theory was that by the time the roots got down to the hole, they would be able to “feed” off the nutrients in the dog food. I’m about to transplant another crepe myrtle and uh… actually considered adding it since we have left over dog food and plenty of compost. I thought it would help our crepe myrtle better survive our sandy soil. Your last comment about not ammending the soil made me pause with surprise. Guess this isn’t a good idea?
    And btw, I’m not going to sign my name, I think I’d better be anonymous for this one!

    December 7, 2010 at 12:23 pm
  3. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    She turned me into a newt!

    November 24, 2010 at 6:51 am
  4. Longtime reader

    Where do you get off saying that Christine O’Donnell is a witch?
    It’s one thing to differ with her politically, it’s an entirely different thing to inject libel and your crass politics into a discussion on gardening.
    What a disappointment.
    (Thanks for sharing your grumpiness. NOT.)

    November 23, 2010 at 8:02 pm
  5. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Henry, I feel you pain. Used to work in a nursery too. Once, a guy brought back a dead tree that had been burned. Now that’s what I call fireblight!

    November 19, 2010 at 7:49 am
  6. Henry H.

    Steve, Of course the tree and certainly an Oak is gonna spread outside of the initial planting area and therefore spread beyond the confines of the soil you ammended and the hole you dug. My problem is when I sell a tree in the middle of summer and tell the person, “Now give it water every day BY HAND and ample enough to soak the roots for 2-3 weeks and then every other day for 2 weeks after that.” Then they come back with a dead tree and want their money back after admitting to using the lawn’s irrigation to water their tree.
    The fact is the ones who did ammend their soil have a much better chance of getting that tree established than the ones who just stuck it in the ground and try to lie to me about watering it.
    I don’t condone nor suggest planting large specimens in the summer but you know as well as I that some people are going to do it regardless.
    Oh, and for those of you not in the industry who frequently return plants to the store you bought them from after they “die”, throwing some water on it before you bring it back in and tellin me “I watered it…” isn’t fooling anybody……
    Just thought I’d point that out and yes I do feel better now……..

    November 16, 2010 at 11:30 am
  7. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    So Henry,
    Say you have sandy soil. You plant a live oak. Are the roots of that tree gonna stay in the hole where you planted it? Also, I was talking about planting trees and big shrubs in the ground, not containers. Have no trouble saying amend the soil for flowers, vegetables, fruits, small shrubs, etc. when necessary.

    November 14, 2010 at 7:43 am
  8. Henry H.

    As always I have to disagree about not adding the soil ammendments. Sandy soils need help with water retention. Just wish somebody here would make that designation(wink,wink).
    Also, I think if a plant got too “comfy” and didn’t spread its roots in ammended soil there wouldn’t be a good lookin container garden anywhere.
    Not tryin to “shake the bushes” Steve I’m just pointing a few things out and systematically breaking down every word you say!!!!

    November 12, 2010 at 10:28 am
  9. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    When transplanting Voldemort, make sure that the roots have at least one “eye.”

    November 12, 2010 at 8:16 am
  10. Rhonda Daniels

    Great advice, thanks Grumpy!
    A few of your Northern fans would like you tell us how to transplant Voldemort? Evil wizards generally don’t
    do well up here. Are we planting too deep?

    November 11, 2010 at 8:25 pm
  11. Donna

    Oh, poor Andy. But other than that, good advice.

    November 11, 2010 at 6:47 pm
  12. Grumpy Gardener (His Benevolence)

    Go ahead and transplant your crepe myrtles. Before transplanting the azaleas, gently lift up the branches,wrap twine around each plant, pull it as tight as you can without breaking branches, and tie it off. This makes it easier to dig closer to the plant and also easier to move it. After you’ve transplanted it, remove the twine.
    Now is a good time to prune and transplants your Knockouts.

    November 11, 2010 at 1:46 pm
  13. Tam

    You didn’t mention roses in the ‘good things to transplant’ list, so is this a good time for roses? My knockouts did poorly this season, I think it is because I planted them too deep when I moved them. I want to prune and raise them a little from the ground. Is this a good idea?

    November 10, 2010 at 5:18 pm
  14. Jennifer Hamilton

    I have an azalea and a couple of crape myrtles that would do better elsewhere. At what size is it no longer a good idea to transplant? The CMs are ~2′, the azalea ~6′. I’ve had luck with azaleas up to 3′, but I don’t want to try and lose a beautiful shrub.

    November 10, 2010 at 3:54 pm

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