As with most flowering trees and shrubs, transplanting a lilac is best done when it is under 5 feet tall and fewer than 3 to 4 years old. After that age it's much easier to transplant a shoot from the base of the plant than it is to move the whole thing. Though lilac is more tolerant of transplant than many other ornamental varieties, moving them in late fall when it is dormant will yield the best results.
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Things you need
- Measuring tape
Select a new location for your lilac that gets plenty of sun, but is sheltered from harsh winds. Lilac branches are prone to breakage. Test the soil drainage by pouring a bucket of water on the planting site. If it doesn't drain quickly, amend an area 4 feet in diameter and 3 feet deep with equal parts peat and sand.
Measure the spread of the lilac you wish to move. If it is 3 feet wide, the hole must be 3 feet wide. If it is 4 feet tall, the hole must be nearly as deep to accommodate the tap root. Dig the transplant hole with a shovel to your measurements.
Return to the lilac. Place the point of the shovel directly under the spread of the lowest limbs, or drip line of the lilac. Dig in a circle at a 45-degree angle toward the centre roots. Pry up gently as you go. If the main roots resist dig deeper and try again until they let go.
Lift the lilac out of the hole and set it into a wheelbarrow. Roll it to the new site. Pour a bucket of water in the bottom of the hole to help reduce transplant shock. Set the lilac in the hole. Backfill with dirt, pressing it firmly against the roots to close air spaces that can dry them out. Tamp the soil down around the trunk with your foot, and finish with another bucket of water.
Continue watering every other day for the next few weeks, or until the ground begins to freeze. This will help the roots recover and reestablish in their new environment.
Tips and warnings
- Enlist a partner to help you lift the lilac out of and back into the ground to avoid back injury.
- Don't try to move a lilac that is more than 5 feet tall. It's very unlikely you'll be able to get enough of the main roots to keep it alive.
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