How To Move A Bush Without Killing It


Transplanting flowers is fairly common for home gardeners, but what about moving bushes? Can it be done successfully?

Yes, you can move a bush without killing it when you follow some basic rules, all of which I put right here in this shrub transplanting guide.

While many people think digging up and transplanting a bush is too tricky, it doesn’t need to be. When you move shrubbery correctly, you can keep it alive to thrive in its new location.

So read up on the things to consider and follow the step-by-step guide on how to move a bush without killing it, so you can continue to enjoy its beauty!

Things To Consider Before Moving A Bush

There are numerous reasons you may find yourself needing to transplant a bush, including:

  • The bush is doing poorly in its current location
  • The bush is in the way of new landscaping plans
  • The bush is sentimental and you want to take it along when you move
  • Friends or neighbors have unwanted bushes and you can use them in your yard

Anyone who visits the garden center knows that bushes are costly, so any time you can save money by transplanting a bush, you are helping your wallet.

When moving a bush, the things you need to consider are will the new location offer the best growing conditions for that specific plant? Does it need full sun, or will it do better in the shade?

Is the soil sufficient for continued growth, or do you need to amend it first? 

Another key factor to consider is the timeline between pulling the bush from the ground and getting it planted in the new location. Will it take a matter of minutes, or will it be hours or even days?

Knowing the best time to move the bush is another consideration.

Transplanting a bush in late fall is best, as the plant slows down active growth for the winter season. Early spring is the next best option because the bush’s root systems are just becoming active after winter dormancy, which puts less stress on the plant. 

What You Need

You will need these supplies to move a bush:

  • Garden hose
  • Shovel
  • Hand pruners
  • Old sheet or burlap sack, optional large pot
  • Bag of garden soil

Your garden hose will need to be long enough to reach both the bush you are removing and the new hole where it will be going.

transplanting a bush

A good shovel will be necessary to make a hole in the new location and to remove the bush from its old site. 

Quality hand pruners enable you to shape the bush to lessen stress during transplant. 

An old sheet or burlap material makes it easy to move the bush without exposing the roots to the sun and wind or losing soil from around the root system. 

A bag or two of garden soil will fill in the new hole around the root ball.

Steps On How To Move A Bush

Please read all the steps before starting any shrub transplanting project, so you can avoid damage that could kill the bush.

transplanting bush adding soil

Step 1 – Find And Prep New Location

Not only must you find a new location for your bush, but you must also prep the space so you can set the plant quickly.

Use a garden shovel to dig a hole. Digging up the ground is not always easy as you often encounter roots or rocks that take time to remove.

You must make sure the hole is deep and wide enough to place the bush and root ball properly.

Set a bag of garden soil near the new location and water the hole and surrounding soil so the ground is saturated.

Step 2 – Water The Bush You Want To Move

Next up, you need to water the bush you are planning to move, especially if your soil is hard clay or heavily compacted.

The softer the soil when you start digging, the less damage you’ll cause the roots as you lift them and the less strain you’ll put on your back.

Soak the ground to the roots, which can be a foot or more down. You can also soak the bush the night before by leaving the hose on a slow trickle.

Step 3 – Prune And Tie Up The Bush

Clipping back the stems of your bush before moving it will help ease the process. Tying up long branches will also make moving the bush less troublesome (think Christmas trees).

Cutting back the bush will lessen the burden on the roots to provide nutrients to the plant’s upper portion after the transplant. 

TIP: Never prune back a bush more than 1/3 of its size. Doing so will stun the plant and cause it to die as it relies on the leaves for photosynthesis. Feel free to remove any deadwood.

Before pruning, use your shovel to score the ground around the perimeter of the bush. The root system of mature bushes will typically grow outward about as far as the branches.

If necessary, gently tie up branches after pruning using twine. You want to keep them from sticking out and getting in your way.

Step 4 – Dig Out And Move Bush

Remove or pull back any mulch around the base of the bush.

Starting anywhere along the scoreline, dig a shallow trench around the bush. 

Once you complete the trench, take your shovel at a 45-degree angle and begin digging downward and toward the center of the bush, going underneath the root ball.

Don’t worry about cutting off some roots, as it will be inevitable, but try to avoid cutting through a large mass.

transplanting bush root ball

Keep going around the bush, digging and lifting until the root ball is free. 

Once the root ball is loose, lift the bush and move the whole thing onto the sheet or burlap fabric and immediately wrap it up to protect it from sunlight and air.

Carry or wheelbarrow the bush to its new location. 

At the new location, unwrap the bush and gently place it inside the hole, making sure the top of the root ball lays even with the existing ground.

Use garden soil to fill the gaps around the bush by packing the dirt down firmly to remove air pockets and keep the plant upright.

What To Do After

Once you have the bush set, start by spraying down the foliage and giving the soil a good soak. 

If you move a bush from a shady spot into full sun, drape the bush with shade cloth during mid-day for the first week to protect it while it gets used to the new environment. 

Water the bush deeply every few days, so it reaches the roots. Fertilize if your garden soil didn’t include extra nutrients.

Once you see the plant growing new shoots and the leaves are perky and green, you can taper off on the watering schedule to once a week.

TIP: If you’re moving plants a distance or can’t bury them right away, keep the fabric around the root ball moist, and place the bush in a shady area.

In Summary

Saving bushes by moving them is excellent for the environment and your pocketbook. 

Now that you know how to move a bush without killing it, you can tackle landscaping projects with more confidence.

When you follow the steps above, you can move bushes to the perfect location so they can increase your home’s curb appeal!

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