It can be all too easy to accept your garden the way it is, even when it doesn’t please you, yet moving a shrub to a more desirable location is so much easier than you might think. And although winter is the time to do, autumn is the time to prepare. Note: always check the position of any underground wiring or plumbing before you begin work.
To give a shrub the best start in what will be its new home, it will need to be ‘wrenched’ in March (in cooler regions) or April in warmer parts of the country. This is when the weather is still mild enough for the shrub to be actively growing, rather than dormant as it would be in winter. To wrench a shrub is to cut through a portion of its roots while it is still in the ground. The roots that remain intact continue to supply the shrub with enough nutrients to enable it to remain healthy. The roots that have been severed begin to grow new, fine roots which will help the plant absorb moisture when it is eventually lifted and moved.
How to wrench a shrub
Wrenching requires a sharp, clean spade, so if you don’t already have what’s required, take out your file and sharpen up your spade tip before you begin. Dip the spade blade into a solution of dilute bleach, then rinse it in fresh water. Look carefully at the spread of your shrub (the distance its foliage reaches from its trunk). Next, insert you spade into the ground about 1/3 of this distance from the trunk. Push down firmly on the spade to create a neat, clean slice the depth of the spade blade. Imagine a circle continuing in this line, around the shrub, and carry on slicing around one quarter of it. In two weeks’ time, use this same slicing method to cut down another quarter of the imagined circle on the other side of the shrub. Leave the shrub where it is, in the ground, until mid winter.
Prepare the new spot
Although you won’t be moving your shrub until winter, the best time to prepare the hole is in autumn when you can check the ground for drainage (if the hole fills with water that takes more than half a day to drain, you’ll need to plant your shrub into a mound rather than with its trunk level with the surrounding ground). The hole should be twice the width and depth of the root ball of the shrub you are moving, so some imagination, as well as calculation is required. Pile the fill onto a tarpaulin at the side of the hole. Loosen the base of the hole with a spade or crowbar. Research your shrub’s preferred growing conditions, and mix any additives such as compost, into the soil that has come from the hole. Hammer untreated garden stakes into the ground, either side of the hole.
In early to mid-winter, slice around the shrub along the remaining sections of the imagined circle, and work your way under the roots with the blade. Lift the shrub out of the ground (you may need help to do this safely). Pop the shrub into the prepared hole, back filling so the soil doesn’t come above the original planting mark on the trunk. Firm around the fill with your foot. Secure the shrub to the untreated stakes with strips of cut-down bicycle inner tube or store bought garden webbing. Resist the urge to use regular garden twine which will damage the trunk in high winds. If the ground is dry, water the shrub.
Even a well-wrenched shrub will receive a shock. If it fruits, flowers or puts on a good display of foliage in the coming spring, that’s a bonus. It may not be until the following season you see your careful work paying off. Good luck with the move!