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how to transplant a mature rhododendron

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by clydesdale, Aug 22, 2005.

  1. clydesdale

    clydesdale LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 388

    These plants are 15 years old. I have two that i would like to transplant. I have never done this before. It is at my own house. Soooo, any words of wisdom? Can I hand dig these out? How deep do i need to go? What should i look for? Any special way to prep the soil that the plants are going in to. Thanks
  2. Coffeecraver

    Coffeecraver LawnSite Senior Member
    from VA.
    Posts: 793

    Transplanting Hardy & Florist Rhododendron and Azaleas

    Most rhododendron and azalea plants sold at nurseries and garden centers are "hardy", grown to be planted outdoors in the climate of the nursery or garden center. These plants are usually quite easy to transplant but some precautions are important to insure success.

    Because the roots grow near the surface, a bed prepared especially for rhododendron and azaleas need not be more than 12 inches deep; deep planting or too much mulch in the growing season keeps the roots from getting the air they need. In fact, it is a good idea to set rhododendron about 1 inch higher than they grew at the nursery. Balled-and-burlaped plants may be transplanted in blossom but it is better to transplant them early in spring in areas where their hardiness is questionable, and in spring or fall if mild winter weather does not damage the shallow-rooted plants. Fall transplanting makes a plant more susceptible to frost heave in climates where freezing and thawing cycles are common. All except leathery leaved rhododendron transplant best in the spring.

    Make sure that the plant is getting wet. Rhododendron guru Harold Greer noted: "Quite often a plant will get completely dry and then no matter how much water you apply, the rootball will just keep shedding it. The top of the soil may seem wet, and the soil around the plant may even be very wet, but the actual rootball of the plant is bone dry. This is especially true for newly planted rhododendrons, and it is the major reason for failure, or at least less than great success with that new plant. It is hard to believe that a plant can be within mere inches of a sprinkler that has been runnung for hours and still be dry, yet it can be SO TRUE!"

    When transplanting a large plant several steps should be followed. First, it is best to stimulate a tight root ball by root pruning the plants to be moved about a year before moving. This is accomplished by cutting a circle around the plant stem with a shovel to cut off roots that extend beyond this point. This radius is usually slightly smaller than half way to the drip line. Second, it is best to move when the plant is dormant and not stressed. This would be in the spring and fall when the plant is still dormant but the soil is not frozen. Moving in the fall before the ground freezes is preferable if you don't have a problem with frost heaving. Sometimes winter freezing and thawing cycles can actually lift a transplanted plant out of the ground where the roots are then desiccated and the plant dies. For this reason, it is safer to transplant in the spring after the ground thaws in climates where frost heaving is a problem. Third, take precautions to preserve the integrity of the root ball. Tie the ball together and support is so it doesn't fall apart. Finally, pruning the top helps match the demands of the top to the capability of the roots after they are stressed by the move. People have been known to cut the top off wild rhododendron before moving and the plants have come back with superior shape. This is drastic and not recommended for a plant you don't want to risk loosing. Rhododendron and azaleas have dormant buds beneath the bark which sprout to form new growth after severe pruning, hence severe pruning which removes 1/3 to 1/2 of leaf area is quite common when transplanting.

  3. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,742

    There is no easier plant to transplant than a Rhody. The roots are tight and fiberous right under the plant. Use a string to pull the branches in a little tighter (be careful they are a bit brittle). Cut straight down around the ball with a sharp transplanting spade. Go all the way around it before you pry or try to lift it. After you cut around it, dig outside of that cut to make room for your spade to cut under the ball. Clean cut any roots with the spade, lopers, or even a saw. You don't want shready woody roots. Once it is free, move it. Put itin the new hole, bury it 2/3 and then flood the hole, let it settle and flood it again. Then finish filling and water again.

    I've done this at every time of year and have never lost a rhody.

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