We try to plan carefully when we start a project, but sometimes we have insufficient knowledge, and sometimes the situation can change suddenly, making our plans come unraveled. This happens in any part of life, and it can happen in our garden plans too. So there are situations where we plant something, perhaps a specimen or a hedge of Thuja Green Giant, and then after a few years we discover a problem, or decide to make a change. The reasons for moving established plants are many. Perhaps you have decided on some construction, and the plants are now in the way. Perhaps you need to open a section of hedge for vehicle entry, planning to put it back later. A neighbor might have suddenly added an extension, and you just as suddenly need privacy. Maybe you are even moving to a new house, and you have arranged to take plants with you.

Whatever the reason, here is the dilemma: you planted some specimens, or perhaps a hedge, or Thuja Green Giant, a few years ago. Maybe just one or two years, maybe 5 or 6 years ago. The plants are well established, and they have grown well, so you have lovely specimens, of a substantial size. How feasible is it to move them? How can you go about it? What preparation is needed? These are all the questions that arise when you find you need to move established plants of Thuja Green Giant, or for that matter, other evergreens.

How Feasible is Moving Established Plants?

The answer to this depends mainly on how long the plants have been in the ground, and how big they are. The main limitation is a practical one – the bigger the plant, the larger the root-ball will need to be, and so the heavier and harder to handle, the plants will be. Of course, you can hire professional help, and with that, even very large trees can be moved with the help of a tree spade. If you have access for machinery, a contractor can come in, and with a tree spade of a suitable size, pick up and move around anything in your garden in a matter of minutes. Considering the high value of large plants, the investment in moving them is often worth it, as it will be much less than replacing them with trees of the same size. If you want to do the job yourself, then with the help of a few friends, and your combined muscle power, you can move even large plants yourself. So the short answer is – very feasible if you have the ability to move them around.

When is the Best Season to Move Established Plants?

The idea seasons for moving are in early fall or early spring in colder areas where the ground freezes in winter, or anytime between fall and the end of winter in warmer regions. At that time the plants are dormant, and they need much less water, so there is a window available for them to re-establish their roots before warmer weather comes. Trees that have only been planted for a couple of years could probably be safely moved at any time except for July and August, if they are carefully watered for a couple of months after moving them.

What Preparation is Needed Before Moving Established Plants?

If our Thuja Green Giant, or other evergreens, have been planted for more than a couple of years, some preparation is a good idea, if you have the time available. As much in advance as possible – a year is considered best –  take a spade and cut straight down around the root ball, but without moving the plant. For very old plants, doing half one year, and the other half the next, by dividing the circle around the plant into alternating segments, is often recommended.

This is what professional nurseries do with all their trees, to develop roots closer to the trunk, and make transplanting easier. You can do it too, and it will make moving your plants much safer, if they have been in the ground for a few years. If you don’t have much time, then you can of course just dig and move the trees in a single operation, but the risk of failure is greater.

Immediately before you dig up your trees, give them a deep, thorough soaking, even if the ground is damp. Do this 24 to 48 hours before moving the trees.

How Big a Root-ball do I Need?

The bigger the tree, the bigger the root-ball. This seems obvious, but how big should they be? For a 5 to 6-foot tree, the root-ball needs to be at least 20 inches across, and preferably wider. For an 8-foot tree, it should be 24 to 30 inches in diameter. For every 2 feet added in height, add 6 inches to the root-ball size. So, a 15-foot tree will need a 4 to 5 foot root ball. That is heavy, so you will need equipment or a team of people to move that one!

Making a Root-ball

When it comes time to dig the trees, and you are doing this by hand, here is what to do. Measure the size you want the ball to be, and draw a circle around the tree on the ground. Now dig a trench, with that circle as the inside wall, all around the tree, going down about 2 feet. Remove all that soil, and then trim the root ball into an upside down rounded cone, until it is sitting on a small column of earth. Now wrap burlap tightly around the roots, securing it with rope, and only then can you cut all the way underneath and release the root-ball.

Replanting Your Trees

Once you have the wrapped tree ready to go, you can safely move it to the new hole, and lower it in to the same depth it was before. Put back some soil, removing the wrapping as you go, and firm it down around the roots, until you have the hole about two-thirds full. Then flood it with water, and let it drain away, before returning the rest of the soil and filling the hole completely.


As you can see, this is a fairly complex procedure, but once you have moved that beautiful big tree, you will be so pleased with the result that you will not mind the work at all. Hopefully you won’t have to start moving big Thuja Green Giants around your property, but if you do, now you know how to do it to maximize the chances of survival.