Let’s just say you notice that your landscape is not quite as it should be. After you get done with all your planting (of course AFTER you plant,) you notice that some of your trees, for example, simply do not belong where they are. You realize that, to be perfect, they should be moved a few feet this way, or a couple feet that way, or to the other side of the flower bed, etc. What you need to do to perfect your beautiful landscape is transplant. Let me assure you, transplanting in regards to landscaping clearly has nothing to do with the kind of transplanting that John Q was after. Well, actually, it is similar, but the object being transplanted in this case is being transplanted to save that object, not to save the object in which you wish to transplant it. Regarding landscaping, transplanting simply means digging up a plant from where it is not wanted and replanting it in a place where it is wanted. This could be done for the health of the plant, or simply for the aesthetic value of your landscape.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that transplanting a plant is quite similar to performing surgery on a person. If the person is under anesthesia, the surgery will not cause any pain; but if that person is awake and is aware of what is going on, you can bet anything that this poor fellow will be in more pain than baseball purists watching Barry Bonds. Plants are very similar to people in this regard. Transplanting a plant will cause the plant to suffer tremendously unless it is dormant. It will feel less and less suffering the more dormant it is. On the contrary, if the tree is alive and well and in full bloom when you transplant it, it is comparable to performing surgery on a person who is awake.
The very beginning of spring is a good time to transplant as long as the plant you wish to transplant is still dormant. As long as the plant is still sleeping, transplanting will not be traumatic for it. Being sure that the plant is dormant is the most important thing to be sure of when transplanting. Dormancy begins with the first good freeze and continues until the weather warms up.
Transplanting is safe to do until the plant starts to leaf out. Even if you begin to notice some green buds, transplanting is still usually okay as long as the plant has not started to leaf out. If the plant started to leaf out already, you must wait until the first freeze to ensure dormancy and then transplant.
It is very important to keep the plant out of the earth for as short a time as possible. It is not exactly the same, but it is similar to taking a fish out of the water: While it is clearly not the best thing for it, it is not detrimental unless it is for an extended period of time. You should also try to keep the roots damp while they are out of the ground.
It is best to dig a ball of earth with the roots when you transplant. If this is not possible, it is vital that you dig up enough of the roots to allow the plant to revitalize when you replant it. The basic rule for how much of the roots you need to dig up is usually about one foot of root-ball for every inch of the plant’s diameter. If the plant is three inches thick, the root-ball should be about three feet across.
If the roots are bigger than necessary, do not be concerned about what will happen to your plant if you prune the roots. This is often times actually quite beneficial for the plant, since the roots will then grow even stronger. Basically, the roots, when severed, grow lateral roots which are better at soaking up water and nutrients. There are even machines that are made for the purpose of pruning roots. There is a device that could be attached to a tractor which undercuts the roots, thereby forcing the roots to create more lateral roots. Root pruning, like transplanting, should only be done when the plant is dormant.
Root pruning is really a great method to prolong the life of your plants which predates tractors. Before tractors were as common as celebrities in rehab, farmers would thrust a spade into the ground around the plants. This would be done during dormancy if a plant was not doing well, or just to strengthen a plant. The spade would sever the roots creating more lateral roots. Now tractors are used, but it is the same thing with the same goal.