Gardening Editor Ruth Hayes shows you how to relocate a young, leafless tree

Although gardening should be a simple pastime, it does occasionally heave a spanner into the works. You might plant something, say, a young tree or shrub, in a position that you think will be perfect, but then realise a year or two down the line that it has outgrown its place or doesn’t look right.

Luckily, plants can usually be relocated easily enough so long as it is the right time of year and they aren’t too established. Deciduous trees and shrubs should be moved in winter, so now is the perfect time.

Young trees relocate better than more established ones. Complete the project on a dull, still day when there is little wind or sun to dry out the plant’s roots.

Use the old soil mark on the trunk to gauge the depth of the planting hole. Planting too deep will kill plants, and a shallow hole where the roots are exposed will stop it thriving.

Step by step: Moving a dormant young tree in winter

Dig the hole

Dig a planting hole as deep as the tree roots and slightly wider. Break up any hard rocks at its base.

Add compost

Add a thick layer of well-rotted compost or manure so the tree roots have initial access to nutrients.

Lift the tree

Start lifting the tree, making sure you don’t damage the roots and that they have plenty of soil around them.

Wrap the rootball

When moving, wrap plastic or a tarpaulin around the rootball to protect the roots from drying out.

Fill in

Once in its new home, hold the tree straight and in-fill around it with soil and well-rotted organic matter.


Firm the soil, water it very well and mulch afterwards. Don’t let the soil dry out while the tree gets established.

Top tips

  • If you have bought bare-root trees but the ground is too wet or frozen for planting, heel them in until you’re ready.
  • Dig a trench somewhere sheltered, with one side at a steeper angle than the other.
  • Place the trees in, making sure their roots are below the ground, and in-fill the trench with soil.
  • Tread the soil to firm it and water the roots well. The trees will be safe here for up to a year until you are ready to plant them properly.
  • Water the roots well
  • Heel-in trees in a deep trench to protect the roots