You may need to move boxwoods if they're in the wrong spot.

How to Uproot a Boxwood Root System

by Amelia Allonsy

Boxwood shrubs (Buxus spp.) transplant rather easily because they have a shallow root system without a deep taproot, allowing you to easily dig up a large root ball to reduce transplant shock. The boxwoods include about 70 species of mostly upright shrubs, but the most widely used species is common boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), which grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 8.

Water the boxwood to a depth of about 12 inches the evening before you plan to remove it. This makes the soil softer and easier to dig, and also helps reduce transplant shock.

Wrap up the boxwood branches with twine, starting from the bottom and working your way to the top of the plant. This gets the branches out of the way so you can dig.

Measure 12 inches out from the base of the boxwood and use a spade blade to trace a circle around the boxwood.

Push the digging spade straight down into the soil along the traced circle, cutting the circle to a depth of about 10 to 12 inches -- roughly the same measurement as the spade's blade length. Cut another circle about 6 inches out from the first circle, creating a 6-inch-wide trench around the boxwood. Use bypass pruners to cut through any roots around the circle that you can't easily cut with the spade or shovel blade.

Insert the blade of a round point shovel into the trench in the soil. Pull back on the shovel handle to pry the roots loose from the soil. Reposition the soil at different points around the trench until it comes free.

Pull back on the shovel handle to tilt the plant, revealing the bottom of the root ball. Have a helper cut any roots on the bottom that continue to anchor the plant in the soil.

Lift the boxwood out of the hole, keeping as much of the root ball intact as possible. Lift from the root ball and not from the trunk to avoid damaging the plant. Set the boxwood on a tarp or canvas drop cloth that you can use to drag the boxwood to its new planting location. Select a new planting site in full sun to partial shade that receives a minimum of five hours of direct sunlight daily.

Items you will need

  • Twine
  • Spade
  • Measuring tape
  • Bypass pruners
  • Round point shovel
  • Tarp or drop cloth


  • You might also need to uproot a diseased or unwanted boxwood. When you will simply discard the boxwood, you don't need to take as much care to preserve the root ball. You can dig out the soil around the trunk and lift the plant out of the ground by the trunk.


  • Boxwood is slightly toxic if eaten. Keep small children away from the plants.
  • The sap in boxwood may cause dermatitis. Wear gloves if you're sensitive to the sap.

About the Author

A former cake decorator and competitive horticulturist, Amelia Allonsy is most at home in the kitchen or with her hands in the dirt. She received her Bachelor's degree from West Virginia University. Her work has been published in the San Francisco Chronicle and on other websites.

Photo Credits

  • Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images