Boxwoods are the classic hedge plant of formal gardens.

How to Transplant Old Boxwood Hedges

by Brian Barth

If your family is the proud owner of an established boxwood (Buxus spp.) hedge, you may have inherited some of the original plantings from when your home was built. Depending on the variety, they're hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9 and can grow to 5 feet or more in old age. Boxwoods are known for their longevity, but if your historic shrubs need moving to accommodate the growth and expansion of your family's home, don't worry -- their fibrous root systems make them quite amenable to transplanting.

Slice into the soil with a spade shovel just inside the drip line of each shrub to cut through the outer roots. Continue around the circumference of each plant until all the lateral roots have been cut.

Dig a trench around the perimeter of each boxwood, following the line where the roots have been cut. Remove the soil to a depth of 10 or 12 inches.

Slice into the soil at the bottom of each trench at a 45 degree angle toward the center of the plant. Continue slicing all around the bottom of each root ball to cut any roots that anchor the boxwoods from below.

Pry up the root balls gently with the shovel to break any final roots and completely free them from the soil.

Slide a tarp or burlap sheet under each root ball and use it to drag or lift the boxwoods to move it to their new location.

Dig a hole to the same depth as each root ball, but twice the diameter and situate the boxwood in the middle, making sure the trunk is straight. Stand back to see if your boxwood needs to be rotated one way or the other for the best appearance.

Return the soil to each hole, packing it carefully around all the roots to make sure there are no air pockets. Mix in one shovel of compost for every three shovels of native soil when refilling the planting holes. The compost helps to improve drainage and is important to give the boxwoods fresh, available nutrients to start growing again. To stimulate the growth of roots, mix one cup of low-nitrogen, high-phosphorus fertilizer with the planting soil for each boxwood. Use bone meal or a synthetic fertilizer such as 7-21-7 -- the middle number represents the percentage of phosphorus. Don't cover the trunks of the boxwoods above the crown of roots.

Water thoroughly and spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch to keep the roots cool and moist while they recover from transplanting. Continue to water whenever the top 1/2 inch of soil becomes dry for the first season after transplanting.

Items you will need

  • Garden spade
  • Tarp or burlap sheet
  • Compost
  • Fertilizer


  • When transplanting an entire hedge from one place to the other, consider preparing the soil along the entire length of the new area all at once. For example, use a rototiller to loosen the soil and incorporate compost in one continuous strip for all the boxwoods before transplanting. This will make the job of digging the holes much easier and give even more room for the roots to spread after transplanting.
  • Fall is the best time to transplant an existing boxwood hedge because it will have plenty of time to recover before the heat of summer. Spring is also acceptable, but transplanting in summer is difficult at best.
  • If possible, prune the roots six to 12 months before transplanting. Simply slice through the soil in a circle around the drip line of the shrub to cut all the lateral roots. The boxwoods will be sustained from their lower roots during this time, and root growth will concentrate in the main root ball, allowing them to be transplanted with less stress to the plants.
  • Water deeply the day before around the roots of the boxwoods to be transplanted, and water deeply in the new location, as well. This will make it much easier to dig and helps the soil stick to the roots rather than falling off in the process of transplanting.
  • Select an appropriate site for the boxwood's new location. Boxwoods aren't picky: They grow beautifully in the shade and are tolerant of full sun as long as their roots are kept cool and moist. However, they require excellent drainage, so avoid planting anywhere that water collects after a rain.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

Photo Credits

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