Q and A: Moving a Rhododendron
The National Gardening Association explains how to transplant a rhododendron.
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Q: Due to a house addition, I will have to move my rhododendron. It's about five feet high and wide and has been growing next to the north side of the house. We are at the south end of Zone 5, so the winter sun and January thaw are hard on some of the early bloomers. Would the north side of an evergreen be a good place to relocate it?
A: Some rhodies grow in full sunshine but most prefer shade. Sounds as though yours has lived in shade but also in a protected area. The house would have kept chilling winds at bay and might even have radiated some heat during the winter months. Try to duplicate the degree of shade in the new location, and plan on putting it near a fence or hedge that will protect it from severe winter weather. It's best not to prune a plant prior or immediately after transplanting; your rhodie will suffer enough shock from the move.
The roots of the rhodie will be within the top 10 to 12 inches of soil and will radiate out beyond the branches. Start digging at the drip line of the longest branches and go all around the shrub, severing the feeder roots within the top six to eight inches of soil. Then dig down toward the center of the root mass, expecting to dig 10 to 12 inches deep. With some help you should be able to remove the shrub without too much damage to the roots.
Drape an old sheet over the top, then tie it loosely to keep the branches from being broken in transit. Place the plant on a plastic tarp and pull or slide it over to its new home. Dig a hole a little deeper and wider than the root mass, gently place the shrub into the hole, making sure it's at the same level it was growing before. Remove the sheet. Water it well and make sure it gets water on a regular basis until it becomes adjusted to its new home. If you plan the move on an overcast day or late in the afternoon, the plant will have time to recover before the heat of the day saps its energy.
— National Gardening Association
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