Holly transplanting time

Asked March 30, 2020, 6:46 PM EDT

Hi, I have a holly tree that I would like to relocate. It has been in a very shady spot for a few years and I think it needs more sunlight to flourish. I have attached a photo; it is about six feet high at the top and just kind of thin. Is this a good time to transplant holly? Is a sunny spot better than shade? If it's a good time to transplant can you give me any advice on making the move? Thank you.

Baltimore County Maryland

3 Responses

This holly has quite an unusual branching structure, with denser growth at the top and awkward and sparser branching below. Selective pruning and moving into a sunnier location may result in better density and shape in time, but hollies such as this tend to be slow growers. Nursery professionals who grow American holly in the ground try not to dig them for sale until late spring, as they are otherwise known for dropping a lot of leaves in response to the stress. Therefore, we think it's safest to wait until around mid-May or so to attempt moving it if you wish to do so. We suggest avoiding full sun, because while they will tolerate the exposure, it can stress them in times of insufficient water or high heat, and they are then more vulnerable to insect attack. Wild American hollies are woodland denizens, and often their natural growth is simply irregular and not very dense.

If you leave it in place, you can try trimming (later in spring) to trigger new growth and branching of stems to create denser foliage. It would be best to cut stems individually with hand pruners instead of using hedge shears to avoid cutting leaves and nicking branches. Keep the plant in a general pyramid shape, narrowest at the top, to allow light to reach the lower leaves. Sometimes drastic pruning is needed to re-shape a holly; fortunately, they tend to tolerate that fairly well.

If you move it, dig as large of a root ball as you are able to manage, keeping in mind that most roots on shrubs and trees run out away from the trunk rather than down deep into the soil. The root zone will be wider than deep and probably at least as wide as the branch spread is now. If you have a tarp, hefting the removed plant onto that to slide it around the yard will be easier than carrying it. You can also use a wheelbarrow, thought that involves a bit of heavy lifting. Although you should limit the amount of time the roots are exposed, avoid pre-digging the hole where it will be sited until you can see the size of the root ball. Digging a hole too deeply can result in sinking of the roots as the soil settles back into place. (Don't firm it down with a foot, though, as this will compact the soil too much.)


That is a lot of very clear advice. Thanks very much. I will follow your instructions closely.