Q: Dear Grumpy,
I need to transplant a boxwood that is in the way of an addition to the house. How do I do that? It needs to be done now (October).
A: Dear Carol,
Few people it seems are happy with where their boxwoods are, because they all want to know when and how to move them. "When?" is easy. Now. October and November are good months. So turn off Oprah (even if she's giving away goodies to her fawning, insufferably greedy audience), grab yourself a shovel, and follow me out to the yard.
Now the day before you dig, you want to water your boxwood thoroughly. Water needs to penetrate the earth to a depth of around 8 inches. Why? Three reasons. First, the plant will be easier to dig. Second, the plant will suffer less transplanting shock. Third, the root ball is less likely to break and fall away from the roots during the move. So now it's tomorrow and you're ready for the big move. Follow these steps.
Step 1 -- Starting at the bottom of the shrub, wrap cord or twine around the circumference of the plant, making a pattern like the corkscrew stripe on a barbershop pole. When you get to the top, pull the cord fairly tight and tie a knot. What this does is lift and compress the branches, making the shrub easier to dig and less cumbersome to move.
Step 2 -- This is the key step. Use a sharp spade to dig out a trench 4-6 inches wide and 8-10 inches deep all around the boxwood. The trench should be no closer than 6-8 inches from the trunk, depending on the plant's size. Once you've dug that, start digging beneath the root ball, until you finally sever its connection to the soil.
Step 3 -- Place your hands on the base of the trunk and carefully lift the root ball from the ground. If it's too heavy for just you, get some help. Then gently place the root ball on a tarp or sheet of plastic. You should be be able to easily pull the tarp or plastic across the lawn or yard to its new location. If sliding the root ball isn't an option, you may have to use a wheelbarrow. Don't break the root ball!!!
Step 4 -- Dig the new hole twice as wide as the root ball, but no deeper. Once in the hole, the top of the root ball should be a half-inch higher than the soil surface. This is because boxwoods hate standing water. You can use your shovel handle to estimate the depth the new hole needs to be. Tamp the soil around the root ball, then water thoroughly. Finally, spread about an inch of mulch over the root ball, but don't pile up mulch against the trunk.
Good luck, Grumpy