Published on 01/20/05

Winter a great time to correct landscape mistakes

By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia

Landscape mistakes can come back to haunt you. You thought the shrubs you planted a while back were perfect, but now you can't get the door open or see out the picture window. Fortunately, winter is a great time to correct these mistakes.

You don't have to live with your landscape mistakes, says Gary Wade, a horticulturist with the University of Georgia Extension Service. Move them to a better place. And don't wait. Do it now.

"February is a good time to move plants," Wade said. "If you do it right, there's no reason they shouldn't thrive in a new spot in the landscape.

"You'll still be able to enjoy them," he said. "And you can put smaller, more appropriate plants in the places the big shrubs have overgrown."

When moving plants, he said, you'll be cutting off a large portion of the roots, so you'll have to prune back the top, too, to compensate. You may need to remove one-third or more of the canopy.

Top, too

However, if you remove half or more of the canopy and have to cut back to large stems, you might as well prune the plant all the way to the ground. Otherwise, it may look like a shrub on legs when it begins growing again.

Most broadleaf shrubs can be severely pruned, but never cut back junipers, pines, spruce or other conifers, Wade said, because they won't form new growth when they're cut back to old wood.

Boxwoods are slow to regrow after severe pruning, he said, so prune them conservatively when you move them.

If you can avoid pruning back large, spring-flowering shrubs like azaleas when you transplant them, they will still flower in the spring. Then you can reshape them with pruning after they bloom.

When you dig up a large shrub, he said, save as many roots as you can.

"Most of the roots are within the top 12 inches of soil," he said, "so it's important to get as much of the surface roots as you can."

How to do it

As a rule, he said, the width of the root ball should be 12 inches plus an extra 2 inches for each foot of height above 2 feet. In other words, a shrub 6 feet tall would have a root ball at least 20 inches wide -- 4 (feet) times 2 inches plus 12 inches.

"Carefully cut underneath the ball and place a piece of cloth, such as burlap, under it," he said. "If the shrub is large, it may take two people to carry or drag it to its new location."

When transplanting, time is critical, Wade said. Before you dig the plant, dig the new hole so there is no time delay in getting it to its new home.

"Roots die quickly when exposed to sun and air," he said, "so getting them in the ground as quickly as possible will help survival. Also, make certain the shrub is planted no deeper than it was growing in the previous location."

"As soon as you plant it, water it thoroughly," he said. That should be all you have to do.

But don't forget about the plant. You could still lose it if you have a period without rain during the next few weeks.

"Don't let the root system dry out," Wade said. "You may need to water it from time to time. Keep the roots moist, but not wet, and it should do fine."

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.