Transplanting for Summer

May is a good month to move plants around your yard and install new plants before the stress of our summer weather starts.

The balmy days of May sweep in this month, and it’s the last chance to get your garden and landscapes into shape for the soggy days of summer. The days are (often) cool enough in the mornings to do some hard work and we (sometimes) get afternoon showers as the winds and moisture from the Gulf and the Atlantic convene over the Florida peninsula.

May is a great time of year to move plants around and install new flowers, shrubs and trees to brighten your yard. And it sounds kind of easy, right? Dig a hole, stick the plants in, water and go.

Well, not really. Not if you want your plants to live long and prosper in their new home. 

Here are some tips to help you install new plants and move plants around in your yard to enjoy their beauty.

To start, consider the new location and its suitability for a new plant. Don’t put a camellia japonica in full sun; don’t put a palm tree in shade. “Right plant, right place,” is the watchword of the Florida-Friendly Landscaping program ( and it applies to both installing new plants and moving them, too. Consider their needs first.

Step one: Dig the new hole in the new location. Plan for sufficient room for the plant and its root ball. Have it ready before you move the plant because having roots exposed to the air is actually stressful. Dig down to enough depth to handle the new plant. 

Local landscape expert Ryan Mims, owner and operator of Tower Hill Nursery, says adding fresh garden soil, manure mixes and/or compost is a good idea. Mix it with the current soil as you don’t want the roots to stay circled only around the conditioned soil; they need to spread out. 

Step two: Dig out the plant. Depending on its size, you may be digging out several feet around. If it’s an older, established plant and you’re able to plan for this on your calendar, do what is called a root pruning a couple weeks before moving day. Use your shovel to cut out the roots where you’re going to dig down and move the plant out. 

The basic concept in transplanting, whether from a container or from the ground, is to keep as much of the major root ball intact as possible. With smaller shrubs, of course, this is more feasible, and you can often plop them into a large container or tie them up in a sheet and move them. But with large plants, it can be a challenge to get to and move a big root ball; they’re heavy and often a bit unwieldly and off balance. You might want another pair of hands to help you.  

Once you’ve got the root ball shoveled out, drag, pull or lift the plant onto a tarp, burlap or sheet to move it. Any lifting, if possible, should be done from under the root ball not from the stem or base of the plant. Having two people with shovels can help you be as gentle as possible with the roots. 

Step three: Move it. Gently. If it’s small enough to lift into a cart or wheelbarrow, do that. If you have to drag it over ground, again, do so gently, so as to not disturb the roots more than needed. 

Step four: Place it in its new hole/home and move it to an upright position. The plant should be at the same level in the soil or even a bit higher than it was. Fill in around the root ball with the soil from its old location, and then use the soil from the newly dug hole. Use both water and gentle tamping down to settle the plant into the ground. With bigger plants you may have to do this step several times as the water moves down through the soil and fills in the air pockets. Finally, make a little soil dam around the plant, which allows water to be caught and move down to its roots. 

Step five: Set up for its healthy new start. Once the roots are watered in and the soil has settled, spread your mulch of choice around it. For shrubs, you’ll want to check on the soil moisture level daily for at least a couple of weeks and water as needed to keep it moist but not soggy enough to cause root rot. The mulch will help preserve the water saturation. 

And be prepared for some transplant shock and leaf loss. It’s what I call a “Big Scary Step” for an established plant to be moved, so understand that the stress will probably affect its reaction. You’ll know within 60 days or so if your plant friend made the trip safely. You’ll see new growth, which means the roots are reaching out and getting the nutrients they need from the soil. 

This is a good time to move things in your yard before summer and with proper care now, they’ll reward you with beauty the rest of the year and years to come. OS

A native Floridian and lifelong gardener, Belea spends her time off fostering cats and collecting caladiums. You can send gardening questions or column suggestions to her at

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