Soil provides structure, and nutrient and water holding capacity for plant roots.

How to Transplant Cleyera

by Reannan Raine

Cleyera (Ternstroemia gymnanthera) is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that grows to a height 8 to 20 feet and width of 5 to 10 feet in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 7 to 10. It can be moved to a property line to be used in a hedge with other cleyeras or shrubs. It is also suitable for use as an accent, specimen or foundation shrub. While it handles being transplanted well, the shrub and new planting site must be prepared ahead of time to ensure success.

Lay a garden hose on the soil in a circle around the shrub in the spring before transplanting in the fall. Move the hose 14 inches away from the shrub if it is 2 feet wide, 20 inches away if it is 4 feet wide and 2 feet away if it is 6 feet wide. Dig a narrow trench around the cleyera with a dirt shovel or garden spade to prune the roots around the outside edge of the garden hose. Make the trench 1 foot deep for a 2-foot-wide shrub or 1 1/2 feet deep for a 6-foot-wide shrub. Add 2 to 3 inches to the depth and width for each additional foot if the shrub is wider than 6 feet. Make separate piles of topsoil and subsoil. Shovel the subsoil back into the trench, then the topsoil. Water the soil to settle it.

Choose a new place to plant the shrub where the soil drains quickly. Test the soil pH at the new planting area in the spring. Cleyeras require acidic soil with a pH below 7, and soil pH can vary from area to area within the yard. Mix sulfur into the soil, if necessary, to lower the pH. The required amount of sulfur varies, depending on the texture of the soil.

Use a dirt shovel to dig the hole at the new site in late fall or early winter. Make the hole 2 to 3 feet wide and 1 to 2 feet deep, depending on the size of the shrub. Plant the cleyera 5 to 6 feet away from other shrubs and trees. Space multiple shrubs 3 to 5 feet apart for a hedge. Use a dirt shovel to break up the back-fill soil until it is fine-textured.

Sever any new roots that have grown into the previously trenched area around the shrub with a sharp garden spade. Push the spade into the soil around the inner edge of the trench with the back of the spade facing in toward the shrub. Dig the dirt out of the trench. Use the garden spade or shovel to make 45-degree angled slices below the root mass to finish forming the rootball. Wrap the rootball in burlap or heavy plastic. Pick the shrub up by the rootball, and set it in a wheelbarrow to take it to the new planting hole. Have several people on hand to assist with lifting and moving the rootball. Rootballs that are 1 1/2 feet wide can weigh as much as 200 pounds. Consider renting a tree spade to move larger shrubs with large rootballs.

Put the shrub in the planting hole before removing the rootball wrap. Confirm that it will sit at the same depth or slightly higher than it was at the old planting site. Remove it from the hole, and make any necessary depth adjustments. Firm the soil at the bottom of the hole. Take the rootball wrapping off, and set the shrub into the planting hole.

Push the back-fill soil into the hole around and below the shrub roots until the hole is half full. Water the shrub with 1/2 gallon of water to settle the soil around the roots. Push the remaining back-fill soil into the hole. Water the transplanted shrub with an additional 1/2 gallon to finish settling the soil.

Spread organic mulch 3 inches deep over the newly filled hole. Maintain a 2- to 3-inch space between the cleyera stems and the mulch. Water the shrub as often as necessary to keep the soil consistently moist for the first year or two until the shrub becomes well-established.

Items you will need

  • Garden hose
  • Tape measure
  • Dirt shovel
  • Sharp garden spade
  • Soil pH test
  • Sulfur (optional)
  • Burlap (optional)
  • Heavy plastic (optional)
  • Mulch


  • For a Cleyera with a rootball wider than 1 1/2 feet wide, hire an arborist to move the shrub.

About the Author

Reannan Raine worked for 30 years in the non-profit sector in various positions. She recently became a licensed insurance agent but has decided to pursue a writing career instead. Ms. Raine is hoping to have her first novel published soon.

Photo Credits

  • growing plant image by Bartlomiej Nowak from