Dogwood Tree Transplanting: How And When To Move A Dogwood

By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Flowering dogwoods are native to most areas of the eastern United States. They are useful as understory trees for partially shaded locations or even a fully sunny site, but often planted in improper locations and require transplanting. Can dogwood trees be transplanted? They certainly can, but follow a few tips on when to move a dogwood and how to do it correctly beforehand.

Can Dogwood Trees be Transplanted?

Dogwoods are lovely plants with four seasons of interest. Their characteristic flowers are actually bracts, or modified leaves, which surround the actual tiny flower. In fall the leaves turn red and orange and bright red fruits form, which birds adore. Their year-round beauty is a boon to any garden and should be preserved.

If a dogwood needs to be moved, choose a site that is suitable so it doesn’t need to be moved again. The trees do well in dappled light in well-drained soil that is moderately acidic. Consider the height of the tree and avoid power lines and sidewalks. It is common to misgauge the height or width of a foundation plant, requiring the need to move it.

Dogwoods also often fail to flower because over story trees have gotten so dense there isn’t enough light to fuel blooms. Whatever the cause, you need to know a few tricks for transplanting dogwoods.

When to Move a Dogwood

Dogwood tree transplanting should be done when they are dormant. This would be when the leaves have dropped and before bud break. Provided your soil is workable, this could be in the middle of winter, but northern gardeners will have to wait until early spring. Transplanting dogwoods earlier can damage the plant’s health because the sap is actively running and any injury to the roots can invite rot and disease, or even girdle the plant.

How to Transplant a Dogwood Tree

A good idea to maximize the health of the tree and prevent transplant shock is to root prune. This is done the season before you will move the tree. Prune the roots in October for an early spring transplant. Cut a trench around the root zone that you desire, severing any roots outside the circle. The size of the root ball varies dependent on the size of the tree. Clemson Cooperative Extension has a root ball sizing table available online.

After the winter season is nearly over, it is time to transplant the tree. Tie up any errant growth to protect branches. It is a good idea to dig the hole first, but if you don’t, wrap the root ball in moist burlap. Use a sharp spade to cut around the area where you root pruned and then under-cut the tree at a 45-degree angle.

Place the soil and root ball on the burlap and tie it around the base of the trunk. Dig the hole twice as large and twice as deep as the root ball with a hill of dirt at the center base. Unwrap the tree and spread the roots out.

Back fill, taking care to use the substrate soil first and then the topsoil. Pack the soil around the roots. A good method is to water in the soil so it sinks around the roots. Fill up to the original soil line and water well to pack the soil.

Keep the tree well watered until it establishes. Don’t panic if it loses a few leaves, as it will perk up in no time.

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How to Transplant Variegated Dogwood

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Variegated dogwoods are available in either a tree or shrub shape that you can transplant in the home landscape as an ornamental feature or to create a shrub. These dogwoods grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 through 8 in a sunny or partially shaded area. The plants grow quickly and feature variegated leaf coloring and creamy, white flowers during the spring. Transplant a variegated dogwood in early spring or fall for best results.

Select a planting area that has well-draining soil and receives full to partial sun.

Dig a planting hole that is the same depth as the tree root ball and twice as wide. Set the tree in the hole and verify that the top of the root ball is at ground level.

Amend the soil removed from the hole by mixing it with an equal amount of compost. Pack the amended soil around the root ball to secure the tree in place. You will have soil left over that can be used for other gardening projects.

Saturate the soil around the newly planted dogwood to compact the soil and remove air pockets. Add more soil around the root ball if the level in the hole drops below ground level.

Spread a 2-inch layer of bark or wood chip mulch over the root ball area to cover the drip line under the tree. Refresh the mulch each spring to prevent weeds around the tree and help hold moisture in the soil.

Saturate the soil over the root ball once a week during the first growing season after transplanting when there is no rainfall. This keeps the tree healthy and promotes root establishment. Avoid creating a condition where there is standing water around the main dogwood stems.

Planting Site

Dogwoods are adaptable to several types of soils however, they naturally grow in moist, fertile soils high in organic matter. They are never found in poorly drained locations in the woods. Their primary demands are good soil drainage and protection from drought. Planting in poorly drained areas will usually result in the tree dying.

Best results will be obtained when dogwoods are planted in association with larger trees that provide moderate shade. In the wild the dogwood is commonly found as an understory tree growing under hardwoods and pines. Growth problems are more likely in hot, dry exposures. On the other hand, planting in dense shade will likely result in poor flowering.


Although the dogwood is a relatively small tree — its magnificent all-season beauty makes a big impact in the residential garden.

Photo by: Nikolay Kurzenko / Shutterstock.

Large, fragrant blooms appear between late March and mid-May and often last as long as three or four weeks.

Photo by: islavicek / Shutterstock.

Blossoms give way to glossy green leaves, some with striking white or yellow variegation.

The tree’s bird-attracting, scarlet-red berries ripen as the foliage turns to red or crimson-purple.

After the leaves drop, the dogwood’s graceful horizontal branches and scale-like bark take center stage. If you’re lucky, the scarlet berries will linger into winter, enhancing the unique beauty of the textured bark.

Growing from Seed

Dogwoods can be grown easily from seeds collected from native trees. Collect seed in late October in South Georgia and in November in the northern half of the state. Soak the seed in water for one or two days to soften the pulp. Remove the external pulp by hand or by rubbing the seed against a fine wire screen. Non-viable seed will float to the top during soaking. Plant seed immediately in a well-prepared seedbed, pot or flat containing well drained media such as one part peat to one part sand. Seed can also be stored in moist (not wet) peat moss (one-half seed, one-half peat moss) in the refrigerator at 35 degrees to 40 degrees until spring. Plant the seed approximately 0.5 inch deep and 1 inch apart. Space rows approximately 6 inches apart. Mulch the seedbed lightly with pine straw, pine bark or compost to keep it moist. Place screening over the beds to eliminate digging by rodents.

Seedlings are quite weak when they first emerge in the spring and it is important to water them gently twice a week if rainfall does not occur. Keep them watered throughout the summer and fall.

Fertilization will be necessary to achieve maximum growth and strong stems. A general purpose fertilizer, such as 16-4-8, 12-4-8 or 10-10-10, may be used at the rate of one level teaspoon per square foot of bed area. Scatter the fertilizer on the surface and water in. Repeat applications each six weeks until early September should result in maximum growth.

Seedlings can then be transplanted to their permanent location during the first or second winter. Take care to dig as many roots as possible and to prevent the feeder roots from becoming dry during the transplanting process.

Status and Revision History
Published on May 01, 1994
Published on Feb 27, 2009
Published with Full Review on Feb 15, 2012
Published with Full Review on Feb 24, 2015

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