Transplanting Large Oakleaf Hydrangeas

A few weeks ago, Michael moved out of his salon (he sold it back in December but the new owner let him rent it until April 1). I had planted various shrubs and trees on the strip behind his salon that separates the salon from another parking lot. He kept telling me that I should dig up two large oakleaf hydrangeas because they were so pretty and who knows what will happen to the plants.

In the meantime, a rather large Colorado Blue Spruce that I planted in our front garden the first year we moved into the house (1992) has continued to deterioate and several of the lower branches had died. I reluctantly decided to cut it down although this created a huge hole along our fence border. When the issue of the oakleaf hydrangeas came up, I thought that might be a good replacement for the spruce.

Transplanting is one of my least favorite jobs and I always worry if the plant(s) will make it. Since these hydrangeas were large, I had my doubts but I decided to tackle the job and get it over with. I cut the spruce down in sections (sad) and was aghast at the big hole it left (our privacy!).

The first hydrangea was the smallest of the two but it turned out to be the most difficult to dig. I finally got it out and transferred it to our house and planted it. The soil at the salon has lots of clay so fortunately the rootball stayed intact. I know it is best to prune back newly transplanted shrubs but I did not want to loose the height of the plants.

We have had several rainfalls since I moved the plants and in addition to that I have kept them watered. So far, so good! The leaves were just about to open and I have not noticed any change in them. I hope this is a good sign. It is best to move plants when they are dormant - during the winter months is best - and I know this was a bit too late. We will see what happens!

Text and photos by Phillip Oliver, Dirt Therapy


  1. I wish you the best of luck with this move. I have tried to move small portions of an oakleaf hydrangea without success but I probably tried to do it when it was too warm and dry. I can imagine the hole the spruce filled with those big blue arms. I hope your Oakleafs fill the space.

  2. I suspect oakleaf hydrangeas are pretty indestructible. I moved a large one last year - had to cut it way back in order to carry it - and its new young leaves look healthy and beautiful this spring. Sounds like yours will do well too!

  3. I wish you lots of luck. Please let us know how they do. Of the eight I transplanted on the farm, only one has survived one year. At first they seemed to be doing well but then quickly dried up despite watering. At the start of winter I thought at least three would make it but alas, only one has survived the winter to bud out now. Deer attacks did not help but honestly I am leaving my large oakleafs here and rethinking that garden design as I don't want to risk moving anymore oakleafs. So far those oakleaf hydrangeas have been the only casualties but I just don't know why. The paniculatas, macrophylla, and arborescens have all made the move wonderfully. Like you, I figure it can't hurt to try. Good luck.

  4. Our Oakleaf hydrangea is just stretching out its leaves now (as you can see at the bottom of today's post on my blog).

    This is its second year in the garden. It didn't flower last year, so I'm hoping we get some blooms this year.

    Either way, the foliage is lovely.

    Please keep us posted as to how the transplant works out!

  5. I moved a few Oak Leaf Hydrangea offshoots last fall, just before they went dormant, so not an ideal time either. What looked like 3 tall but questionable sticks stuck in the ground all winter are now (slowly) leafing out. I'm not sure they will bloom this year, but that are definitely growing. I've kept them well watered this spring, but haven't fertilized, because I treated the holes pretty well. I may to that this summer if they look like they need some help.

  6. Phillip, I suspect they will do fine for you! Just keep them hydrated and make sure they have decent drainage. I have moved many and they have all survived. Btw, I never prune shrubs when I transplant them or trees! gail

  7. I feel your pain! Just last week, I transplanted a hibiscus from the yard of our old house into a pot. The tiny little buds were already starting to form, so I couldn't prune. I was worried sick that she wouldn't survive the transition, but she is leafing out just fine! It's funny how that works. Perhaps the plants don't want to be left behind!


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