Monday, October 1, 2012

How To Dig A Root Ball For Transplanting.

Q. I wanted to transplant already established juniper.  It has overgrown the sidewalk and needs to be removed.  I wanted to transplant that to a completely different area.  Do you have any hints on digging out the roots from a plant that is already established?

A. Mature shrubs can be difficult to transplant. The biggest problem is weight. A large root ball can weigh several hundred pounds. Another problem is trying to retain soil around the roots. Wrapping the root ball with burlap is the most popular method of keeping the roots and soil intact. If your shrub is very large, you should contact a local nursery for assistance.

If you plan to move it yourself, you'll need:
  • A sharp garden spade,
  • A large square of burlap cloth (never plastic!),
  • A small box of 12 gauge 2-1/4 inch nails.
It's best to dig shrubs and trees during winter dormancy. Junipers, being evergreen, don't go fully dormant, but it's still better to dig from late fall to early spring.

To transplant your shrub, you'll need to dig the roots with soil intact in the form of a ball. Then you'll need to wrap the ball in burlap. Secure the burlap tightly around the ball by pinning the fabric with nails. It's kind of like wrapping the soil ball in a big diaper.

Begin by determining the necessary size of the root ball. Keep in mind that most feeder roots will be near the outer circumference of the leafy portion of the shrub. If the shrub is very large, the root ball will be very large. In order to keep the root ball to a manageable size, some of the feeder roots must be sacrificed. As a rule of thumb, the radius of the root ball should be 11 inches for every 1 inch of the diameter of the trunk. Measure the trunk about 6 inches above the soil line.

Begin by removing any weeds, grass, fallen leaves, mulch, etc. from around the shrub.  Mark a circle in the soil to designate the size of the root ball, as determined above. Scrape the soil clean inside the circle.

If the soil is loose, stomp on it all the way around the shrub to compact it. During the entire process of stomping and digging, take care not to damage the bark of the trunk.

Following the circle, dig a shallow trench around the shrub with the corner of a spade. Then from the trunk of the shrub, begin forming the ball inside the circular trench. The ball will slope outward and downward from the trunk. It's like gently carving a ball out of soil. You will probably contact roots as you work. You'll have to cut through them, but be careful not to crack the ball. Shape it little by little. Don't be impatient.

When you've shaped the top half of the ball, begin gently digging under the ball as you shape the underside. When you've shaped about three-fourths of the ball, begin forcing the spade under it at an angle. You'll cut some roots. Always be careful not to destroy the ball. Again, be patient. Work slowly and carefully.

Once the ball is separated from the rest of the soil, gently tip the plant to one side and work the burlap under the ball. If the soil is holding together well enough, you may be able to lift it and have someone slide the burlap under the ball. Or you may have to use the spade to lift the ball onto the burlap.

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