What To Know About Transplanting Plants

Updated: May 12, 2024

Transplanting perennials is easier than most gardeners realize, often resulting in more plants to grow and share with others.

Transplanting plants is easy!

I had my first real experience with transplanting when I moved and set up my first garden. I dug up perennials from my parents’ garden and moved them to mine. Then I asked other gardening relatives and friends, who shared a few perennials with me.

Later, I transplanted some of those perennials to my next house and garden, then the next house and garden after that. You get the idea: I’ve transplanted a lot of plants!

What Is Transplanting Plants?

As the term suggests, transplanting is digging up and moving a plant from one location to another. Sometimes you can divide the plants before replanting them. Indoors, transplanting a houseplant usually involves putting it in a larger pot (aka repotting).

Why Transplant Plants?

There are many good reasons to transplant:

  • The plant has outgrown its spot in the garden, crowding out other plants.
  • Nearby plants are crowding it out.
  • You planted it in the wrong spot or changed your mind about where to put it.
  • The plant isn’t doing well because it’s too sunny or shady where it’s growing.
  • You’re moving and want to take it with you.
  • You want to share part of the plant with others.

Signs a plant needs transplanting

A plant failing to bloom as it once did indicates transplanting may be in order.

If you find your daylilies or other perennials blooming less each year, it may be because the clump has grown too thick or other plants are crowding it out. Other plants, like asters and some perennial grasses, sometimes die out in the center. In both cases, digging it up and transplanting a smaller section back to that spot can make it bloom better the following year.

What happens if you don’t transplant?

The plant could eventually weaken and die out, or crowd out other plants.

When To Transplant Plants

Here’s what the experts say:

After flowering

Some plants, especially those that flower early in spring, can be dug up and divided right after flowering. I do this with daffodils, snowdrops and other plants grown from bulbs. This type of transplanting is often called “in the green.” It’s easier to see where the bulbs are in spring after flowering than trying to find them to dig up in fall.

Early spring

Other plants can be dug up and transplanted just as new shoots appear in spring. Hostas are commonly divided and transplanted this way.

Fall

Fall is another great season for transplanting. There’s less stress on plants because the days are cooling down, and often there’s more rainfall.

When a plant is in danger

Transplanting plants in imminent danger saves their lives. I once moved peonies in the middle of July to save them from a home remodeling project, though all the books said only to transplant them in fall. Twenty-plus years later, they’re doing just fine.

Best time of day

Transplant in late afternoon or early evening. This gives the plant a few extra hours to recover without the sun beating down on it.

How To Transplant a Plant

Most perennials can be dug up and transplanted the same way you plant any other flowers, with a few extra steps:

  • Give the plant a good watering before digging it up. Likewise, ensure the area you’re transplanting it to has been watered recently. To lessen the time the plant is out of the ground, make a hole in the new location before digging up the plant.
  • Using a sharp shovel or digging fork, remove the entire plant, even if you’re going to divide it and replant some of it in the same spot. Dig around the edge of the plant straight down, then work the shovel under the plant. For smaller plants or tight spots, use a smaller perennial spade.
  • Divide the plant if you’re sharing it or replanting in the same spot.
  • Place the plant in its new hole, making sure it’s the same depth where it was growing before.
  • Backfill with the soil you dug out of the hole, then keep the plant well-watered while it recovers. Watering after transplanting is essential.
  • If you’re moving the plant in summer and it’s in full sun, provide some temporary shade with a big beach umbrella or folding lawn chair until it grows new roots.