perfect planting

Perfect Planting – Geoff Moss

by Northern Life

Now that the temperatures are dropping and the weather is becoming colder we need to look towards planning the garden as the urgency of growth from the summer is now dying down and it is easier to see the structure of the garden and begin the tasks that can only be done at this time of year. One of these tasks is moving plants that may be too big for the space or might be in a bad place or may even just need to be in a different position to make the garden look better.

Once you have identified which plants need moving it is best to decide where the plants need to be moved to before digging them up. A couple of reasons for this are that the less time the plant spends out of the ground the better, and it also makes good sense to have identified the new position so that you know the plant will fit, will have enough room and will of course look right.


After identifying the new position for the plant you will need to look at what sort of plant it is that you are moving. This is because the technique will differ slightly dependent on the type of plant –
if it is a herbaceous perennial (one that dies down and re-grows each year) it will have a relatively shallow and very fibrous root system, whereas if it is a shrub or a tree it will have a much deeper root system which may not be as fibrous depending on the plant. There is also of course the size of the plant as a perennial will have only leaves to contend with whereas a shrub or tree has its own structure and this is a consideration when lifting the plant but also when moving it across the garden particularly if you have other trees or shrubs or structures to negotiate.

The technique for moving any plant is largely the same so here is a guide to moving any type of plant. Start by finding the edge of the canopy of leaves or the stems themselves, then dig your spade in almost vertically and pull back on the spade to lever on the soil. Repeat this process all the way round the canopy or extent of the plant and if the plant is going to lift easily you will notice some movement of the root ball. If it is going to be more difficult to lift the plant there will be no movement, and patience is the key here as well as, I’m afraid to say, a lot more hard work but it will be worth it. In this instance you will need to dig a small trench around the root ball of the plant to be able to reach the underside of the root ball. The trench only needs to be a spade width but is
obviously more digging, however once you can get under the root ball it will be easier to free it from the ground.

The next stage is to lift the plant out of the hole and move it to its new position. If the plant is larger you may need someone to help with this depending on your own strength. Once the plant is out of the ground you can lift it, move it in a wheelbarrow or with a sack truck, or put it on a sheet to slide it; all depending on the size and weight of the plant or root ball – you will need to decide on your method as the plant comes out of the ground as it is often difficult to tell beforehand so have a few methods in mind as you come to start. As you get your plant to its new position, leave it on the ground just near the new position with enough work room around it so you can either dig a hole for the plant or make alterations to a hole that you have already dug.

To dig out the hole for the plant, measure the root ball of the plant and ensure there is enough room around where the plant will be situated in the new position so that it isn’t going to interfere with other plants or get crowded. Next dig a hole the size of the root ball and the same depth but just slightly deeper so that the root ball will sit an inch or a couple of inches below the surface – the larger the plant the deeper the root ball should be so there is more soil weight to secure it up to a maximum of four inches – then put the soil that you dig out around the hole so that there is a gap where you can pull the plant through to put it in the hole.

The reason for leaving the plant on the ground near the hole is so that you can choose the best way round for the plant and its appearance. Take a good look at the plant and decide which is the most attractive side but also which way it will fit best in the new position as there are a few reasons for this. It needs to look good among the other plants around it. If it is a feature plant it needs
to stand out as a feature or even if it is being planted on a slope it will need to be orientated correctly so that it looks right as it will need to sit vertically against the slope. Once you know which way round is best for your plant you can turn the plant to sit in the correct position then lift or slide the plant into the hole.

Top Tip: Dig some compost into the soil you have dug out of the hole and fork a little compost into the bottom of the hole. This will give the plant an extra boost to help it settle into its new position.

Once the plant is in the hole in the correct position start pushing soil back round the root ball by hand for smaller plants or using tools for larger plants. As the soil reaches around half way up the
root ball compact it in, pushing with your hands for smaller plants or stamping with your heel for larger plants. Continue filling round the root ball and compacting the soil until you can cover the top of the root ball with soil, then compact the soil on top to give the plant a final securing.

Important Fact: Ensure that soil round the root ball of a plant is well compacted so that it removes any air pockets around the roots. Don’t worry about squashing the roots, but air kills roots so it is important to remove the air from the soil. Again I hope this article has proved useful for helping with moving plants as unfortunately I have not been able to explore all the details between moving different plants but hopefully it has provided a guide to moving most plants in the garden. Come back for the next article when we focus on garden structure.