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Move shrubs in the quiet of winter

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. I want to spruce up my house’s front entrance when I sell it this winter and don’t know what plants are good for the cold weather. Ideas?

    A. Since you have pots ready to fill, this should not be difficult. For a small rectangular terra-cotta planter, choose colorful pansies that will bloom all winter and through the spring. Aim for cheerful colors, such as yellow and white, that will stand out. Groom them regularly and fertilize them at planting time and again in midwinter. Round pots could take an attractive dwarf Alberta spruce or a rosemary pruned to an upside-down cone shape. The rosemary will give a nice scent and may even show blue blooms this winter. Other choices are small azaleas that are attractive even though not in bloom this winter.


I am no longer surprised when someone – typically in the hottest week of July – asks for advice on transplanting a shrub that presents problems in the landscape. It may be too tall, it may be bumping into a more valued plant or it may be blocking an important view.

July is not the time for this project, but I can understand that when the problem becomes most obvious, people are keen to take action. But hot weather, usually dry, is not the time for this.

Now is the time.

The weather is cool. The soil is moist and soft. The shrub is dormant. And it just may be true that you have a few days off – and not much to do.

And there’s that shrub, still as out of place as it was in July. Hopefully it is not too big to manage with just the help of another pair of hands. You should be able to handle one that is 4 feet or less.

But first settle on the destination of the transplanted shrub, keeping in mind its eventual height and width at maturity. Also consider nearby objects such as sidewalks, driveways or anything else where you don’t want it to encroach.

Besides strong arms and shoulders, the essential equipment for transplanting includes a spade or shovel, an implement for cutting such as lopping shears and a tarp or large piece of heavy plastic.

Before you dig, look over the lower branches and tie them up gently to high branches to get them out of the way. Prune off any wayward branches that affect the shape of the plant.

Judge the amount of root zone. Wrap or tie the lower branches up to protect them and keep them out of your way while digging.

Settle on a circumference for digging a small to medium evergreen shrub that is 1 to 2 feet tall. Make the radius 6 to 8 inches from the base of the plant, more for larger shrubs. This sounds small but will still make a large amount of roots to move. Simply sink your spade into the earth around the designated circle. Shrub roots tend to grow more outward and horizontally than vertically. As you dig, continue to push the shovel under the plant. This will take more than one trip around the circle, but it should soon be evident that the roots are starting to come up.

You will not get all the roots, and that is OK because there will be time to grow new ones before the stress of summer. You will probably have to cut away with shears some roots that resist coming up. That is natural.

Once the roots are completely free, lift the plant by the root ball or roll it gently onto a tarp. Then fold over the tarp and pull it to the new spot. Do not pick up the plant by its trunk or branches, because that is likely to cause damage due to the weight of the root ball.

The new spot should be dug deeply enough for the root ball to sit at the same level it was before. But it should be dug two to three times wider to allow easy root development.

Use a root-stimulating fertilizer to encourage fresh root growth through the winter and early spring and before the plant begins to put out new stems and leaves in spring.

Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com
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