Camellia japonica is the official state flower of Alabama.

How to Transplant a Camellia Japonica Bush

by Bridget Kelly

Much like a small child, Camellia japonica doesn’t deal well with disruption. Changes in location, in humidity and temperature cause it to fuss, rebel and even drop buds. Provide the camellia with routine and consistency, and its botanical tantrums subside. Grow the shrub in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 through 9, and you’ll have even better luck with it. If you need to transplant the camellia, whether it’s to move it to a new location or to get a new plant into the ground, do so quickly and be prepared to nurture it afterward. Wait until after it flowers, but before it produces a new flush of foliage to do the deed.

Transplanting an Established Camellia

Choose a new site that receives sunshine only in the morning or dappled shade all day.

Water the camellia the day before you’ll move it, soaking the soil to a depth of 18 to 24 inches.

Remove all bloom buds from the shrub.

Determine how much of the shrub’s root ball you can physically move to the new location. The larger it is, the more soil it will contain and the heavier it will be, but you won't be taking the entire root ball. Mark the area with rocks or sprinkle flour in a circle around the shrub as a guide. Use the shovel to slice through the soil, at least 1-foot deep, in a ring around the plant and through its roots. As you slice, rock the shovel back and forth to pry the soil loose and create a gap 3 to 4 inches wide.

Fill the gap with mulch and keep the area moist for at least eight weeks.

Measure the area from the base of the camellia to the gap in the soil. This is how wide you will need to dig the planting hole in the new location. The depth of the hole should be equal to the depth of the root ball. Because you won’t know this measurement until you actually remove the camellia, use your best estimate. You can quickly adjust the depth just before planting.

Prune the camellia to make it easier to handle. Remove smaller branches back to larger branches, remove stems growing toward the inside of the plat and those growing straight up. The idea here is to remove as much weight as possible and to give the shrub less growth to support as it becomes established.

Tie a strip of cloth on the side of the shrub that faces north. The camellia needs to be replanted with the same orientation.

Remove the mulch from the gap and use the shovel to pry the camellia from the soil. Depending on its size, place it in a wheelbarrow or on a tarp that you can drag to the new location.

Place the camellia bush in the hole. It should sit with the crown just slightly above the soil level. Add or remove soil from the hole to get it to the proper depth. Ensure that the strip of cloth is facing north then fill the hole halfway with soil.

Fill the hole with water. As the water drains, it settles the soil around the roots and removes air pockets. When it has completely drained, finish filling the hole with soil. If any roots are exposed, cover them with a thin layer of soil.

Spread 3 inches of a pine needle or bark mulch around the camellia, keeping it 6 inches from the base. Keep the soil moist at all times while it becomes established in the new location.

Transplanting a New Camellia

Choose a location to plant the shrub that receives morning sun or dappled shade all day.

Dig a hole that is two times the diameter and the same depth of the pot in which the camellia is growing.

Remove the plant from the pot and place the roots in the hole. If the camellia was purchased balled and burlapped, remove the twine or wire and pull back the burlap so that the top 8 inches of the root ball are exposed before placing it in the hole.

Fill the hole halfway with soil and then fill it with water. When the water drains, fill the hole completely with soil.

Water the camellia slowly, to the same depth as the hole.

Spread a 3-inch layer of pine needles or pine bark around the camellia, keeping it at least 6 inches away from the base of the shrub.

Items you will need

  • Sharp, pointed shovel
  • Mulch
  • Measuring tape
  • Pruning shears


  • Wear garden gloves to prevent blistering when working with the shovel.
  • Disinfect pruning shear blades in 90 parts water to 10 parts bleach to prevent the spread of disease from one plant to another.
  • When lifting the shrub with its root ball, lift from the legs, not the back.

About the Author

Based in the American Southwest, Bridget Kelly has been writing about gardening and real estate since 2005. Her articles have appeared at,,, RE/,,, and in "Chicago Agent" magazine, to name a few. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with a concentration in creative writing.

Photo Credits

  • Jupiterimages/ Images