Arborvitae Transplanting

It takes some digging to transplant an arborvitae.
It takes some digging to transplant an arborvitae. (Image: conifer image by Alison Bowden from

Arborvitae trees are a popular feature for many landscaping projects. This soft needled evergreen can serve as a shrub, hedge or singular tree in the yard. It is best to transplant an arborvitae when it is relatively young and smaller. Larger trees have more extensive root systems that can be damaged when digging them out of the ground.

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Seasonal concerns

Arborvitae fare best when they are transplanted in or near a dormant stage. This will allow the tree to begin establishing itself in its new spot in the yard when the growing season begins. Target late fall as the time you want to move the tree or shrub. Arborvitae can be transplanted at other times of the year but you will have to pay additional attention to the tree in order to make sure it gets enough water.

Removing the Transplant

To dig out the arborvitae, identify the drip line of the tree. This is generally a line around the tree where the outermost branches reach. Using a sharp shovel, dig straight down around the tree about 4 to 6 inches outside of the drip line. This will help make sure you don't damage the root system. After circling the tree with your spade, begin digging to a depth of at least 1 foot in order to loosen the arborvitae from the ground. Continue around the tree, gently loosening the roots from the soil without cutting through them until the tree can be removed from the hole.

Leave Rootball Alone

Do not attempt to remove the dirt around the roots after you unearth your arborvitae.

Preparing the New Hole

Dig the new hole to be slightly larger than the root ball of your existing tree. Transplant the arborvitae to the new hole and fill in the remaining areas with the dirt you have removed from the hole. Tamp it down to remove air pockets, but don't pack the dirt tightly. Give the newly transplanted tree a good dousing of water.

Moisture Considerations

Put down a layer of mulch around the perimeter of the drip line of the transplanted arborvitae. This will help it to retain moisture during its initial replanting stage. Because they are attempting to re-establish the root system, make sure the transplanted tree has adequate amounts of moisture. But take care not to overwater the plant. Too much water will suffocate the root structure.


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