How to Transplant Azaleas

It happens to all gardeners eventually: A favorite perennial or shrub is in the wrong place, and needs to be moved. Transplanting azaleas is no different.

If it’s an azalea, you’re in luck because azaleas have shallow roots, are easy to dig up, and recover quickly from the stress of moving. Even mature azaleas can be moved if you are careful to minimize damage to the root systems. Read on if you are interested in learning how to transplant azalea bushes.

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When to Transplant Azaleas

Prune the azalea roots a year before transplanting for best results
The best time to move a shrub – any shrub – is early in the morning or late in the afternoon on a cool, cloudy day in early spring or fall.

Avoid transplanting azaleas or any shrub during extended dry periods, or when daytime temperatures are above 80°F.

The single most important thing you can do to insure success when transplanting is to root-prune a year before the move.

(If you’re careful, you can move an azalea successfully without prior root-pruning, but it will recover quicker if you plan ahead and prune those roots before transplanting.)

How to Prune Azalea Roots

Dig a donut-like trench all around the azalea 8-12 inches out from the trunk. This will sever all the shallow outward growing roots. Make the trench about six inches wide and about a foot deep. Fill the trench back in with the same, now loosened, soil. Soon, new fibrous roots and root hairs will grow into the soil within the trench.

Most of an azalea’s roots are shallow, not deep. When it comes to digging one up, wider trumps deeper. The wider, the better.

Transplanting the Azalea

Prune the azaleas leaves back by 1/3 before transplanting to encourage new growth when it is planted in its new location
When you are ready to move the azalea (ideally a year or so after root-pruning), prune the top back by about one-third. 

Dig the new hole. Free the azalea by slicing a circle just outside the original root-prune trench, and 12-18 inches deep. (If you didn’t root-prune, make the cut 12-18 inches out from the azalea’s trunk.) Water thoroughly.

Force the shovel all around and up under the root mass and lift it up, keeping as much soil as possible in contact with the roots. (Any of the fibrous, hairlike roots that get dry will die.) Slide a tarp under the root ball and wrap it up the sides before moving it.

The root ball must be kept constantly moist and the shrub shaded until it is transplanted into its new hole.

Leave the root ball in tact when transplanting azaleas
The new planting hole should be a foot or two wider than the root ball and about the same depth. Do not put fertilizer in the hole as this can damage tender roots. Use the tarp to slide the azalea to its new location.

Drop the root ball into the hole and refill with the same native soil, stopping to water a few times to make sure the soil settles in around the roots and there are no air pockets.

Be sure the shrub is set no deeper in the new hole than it was in its original location.

To Do Post Transplanting

Watering every day for the first 2 weeks is essential to keep your azalea healthy
Water thoroughly to settle the soil in around the roots. Build up a dike around the trunk a few feet out that will hold water over the root zone so it percolates into the soil rather than running off.

Cover the ground around the trunk out to a foot or so beyond where the roots ended with an organic mulch 3-6 inches deep. Keep the mulch or organic matter an inch or two away from the trunk. You can use hay, straw, pine needles, dry leaves, bark chips, or well rotted compost. Azaleas are acid lovers, so don’t use a mulch that has a basic pH.

Once your azalea is in its new position, it will need to be babied for several months. If it doesn’t get an inch of rain per week, you will want to supply the difference. Water thoroughly and deeply once a week or when the soil gets almost (but not completely) dry. Do not keep the soil around the roots constantly wet, because that will prevent air from reaching the roots and lead to rot. Transplanted shrubs are more at risk for dying of dehydration or disease so watch your azalea plant closely.
Gorgeous azalea bushes will bounce back after being transplanted in no time with a little TLC
When it comes to landscaping with azaleas, you CAN change your mind and transplant at the right time of year.