Best Time to Transplant Hydrangeas | How to Do It

Hydrangeas are beautiful, and classic, and produce bountiful multicolored bouquets of fragrant flowers. They are a prized species that often flourishes beyond the reaches of their garden space. 

Transplanting hydrangeas is a pivotal step in keeping your population producing flowers, but it can be difficult to accomplish. 

There are several techniques used to split hydrangeas and if done improperly, the mother plant and the transplants could easily die. 

This article falls into the realm of transplanting hydrangeas, including when it is the best time to transplant hydrangeas and how to accomplish the task without losing your prized plants.

What’s The Best Time to Transplant Hydrangeas

The best time to transplant Hydrangeas is when they are dormant. This occurs when environmental conditions trigger the plant to stop leaf and flower production and begin allocating sugars to its roots for winter storage. 

As day length shortens and temperatures drop, hydrangeas will naturally begin this process in preparation to overwinter. If the plant accomplishes its goal, it will have enough reserves to begin growing again in the spring. 

The signs of a hydrangea going into dormancy are an absence of new shoots and flowers, the dropping of leaves, and an overall browning appearance. Unless pruned, the brown stalks remain standing throughout the winter. 

Dormant live stems will have green under the bark and should not snap easily. When these brown stems of your hydrangea plant are exposed, then the plant is dormant and is in the state most likely to survive the transplant.

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What Time of Year Can Hydrangeas be Transplanted

If needed, hydrangeas can be transplanted any time of the year, but for the greatest chance of plant survival, you should stick with transplanting in the fall. 

During the fall, hydrangea plants will senesce, which is the natural process that prepares the plant to go dormant during the harshness of winter. After the hydrangea plants have started to senesce, they will be more likely to thrive in their new location once they emerge from their dormant state in the spring. 

Hydrangeas can also be successfully transplanted in the early spring. You can dig up a hydrangea plant and transplant it into a new location with minimal risks once the ground has reached at least 55 degrees Fahrenheit but before the plant has left dormancy and started to grow for the new season. 

Best Month for Transplanting Hydrangeas

September and November have the most ideal conditions for transplanting. In most climates, the ground has not yet frozen, but the temperatures have dropped enough to trigger the plant to senesce. 

Any month during the late fall season will not have enough sunlight to prolong the growth of any hydrangea species and will quickly prompt the plants to go dormant. 

How to Move an Established Hydrangea – Step-by-Step Guide

The care you take in preventing damage to the hydrangea plant during transplanting is pivotal to the future success of the plant. While hydrangeas are hardy growers, they are sensitive to root damage. 

If enough damage is done, they probably won’t flower that season, and even worse, they might not come back the following spring. 

1. Preparing the hydrangea for transplant 

A plant that is fed and watered is more likely to survive any potential damage. So, the weeks before moving an established hydrangea, you should fertilize the soil with organic matter or a good quality hydrangea fertilizer

The day before, you should thoroughly soak the soil with water. But then, do not water it again until after the transplantation is complete because wet soil is harder to work with.

Remove the plant from the pot and check the moisture levels to be sure the water has soaked fully into the root ball, and not just the outer area of the root ball.

preparing the hole for planting
Check the root ball is thoroughly soaked before planting

2. Choosing a new location

Plant hydrangeas in an area that will get plenty of morning sun and sufficient afternoon shade that will protect them from the day’s harsh heat. Pick a site that has nutrient-rich soil that drains well. The soil can be moist but should not hold water for an extended period. 

Sandy loams are preferred, while soils with clay content should be avoided. Hydrangeas don’t do well when planted under large trees or structures. Instead, plant them in dedicated landscape gardens or containers along walkways, fences, and front yards where they will have room to spread. 

3. Digging a New Planting hole

Dig a new hole for the hydrangea before digging out the new plant. This will ensure that the plant spends as little time as possible with its root ball outside of the soil. 

Dig a hole that is at least 6 inches wider and deeper than the root ball so that there is plenty of space for enriched soil to be packed in. 

4. Preparing the new soil

The soil that will be packed around the new plant should be fortified with organic matter and mineral deposits to ensure the transplant has plenty of nutrients to help it survive the stress of moving. 

You can buy premixed potting soil, or you can easily mix your own using simple ingredients from your local grow store. Either way, make sure it is a balanced mix meant for vegetative growth versus mixes meant for application during flowering stages. 

5. Transplanting 

Once the hole is dug, place the transplant into the middle of the new hole. While supporting the plant upright, fill in the space with soil around the root ball until the hole is filled. Gently pack the soil down while mounding the soil up around the main stems of the hydrangea transplant to ensure proper water drainage away from the plant. 

placing the plant in the hole
Locating the plant in the center of the planting hole

6. Minimising Root Damage

Minimizing root damage is very important in the survival of transplanted hydrangeas. If the roots become damaged during transplanting, then the hydrangeas might not flower that season because they are allocating their energy to root growth instead of flower production.  

If the root ball is too severely damaged, the plant might die that season or might not come back the following spring. Minimize root damage by being careful not to sever the main root ball when using a shovel and by being delicate when dividing root balls. 

7. Avoiding Transplant Shock

Avoid shock to the plant during transplantation by transferring as much of its original soil as possible to its new location. 

Never shake the root ball of its soil! That removes precious nutrients and beneficial microorganisms and fungi that work together to help the plant grow and survive hardships like transplanting.

8. Aftercare

After transplanting is finished, thoroughly soak the soil with water to remove large air pockets that will kill sensitive roots. 

Amend the soil with organic matter or fertilizers as needed during the weeks following the transplant. 

Create and adhere to a watering and fertilizing schedule to have consistent and abundant blooms. 

Dividing Large Hydrangeas

You can divide large hydrangea shrubs to create new gardens or make space in an existing garden. Dividing the bush in half is usually recommended although very large shrubs can be divided into more sections. The more you divide the plant, the less likely the parent plant or the transplant is to survive. 

Gently loosen the soil around the shrub with a shovel. Separate the shrub in the middle and find the root crown. Then, use the shovel to cut the shrub in half. 

While keeping one half in the ground, gently remove the other half by forcibly pulling the scrub and its root ball out of the ground. If you encounter a tremendous amount of resistance, then continue to loosen the soil until it breaks free. 

Make sure to keep the root ball and above-ground shrubbery intact, so that the transplant can establish its own root system in its new location. 

Fill the hole near the parent plant with organic-rich topsoil and water daily for at least a week. If it survives the next few weeks, then it most likely did not sustain any lasting damage from the dividing. 

If the parent plant is too severely stressed, then it may not come back in the spring. 

When to Prune a Transplanted Hydrangea 

During the first and second growing seasons, you should prune the hydrangea plant to around 6 inches above the ground during the very early spring. 

Once the hydrangeas have gained a considerable amount of growth, usually by the end of the third year, then you should stop pruning them to the ground to ensure there is enough old wood for the next season’s buds to grow onto. 

Instead, start to prune or deadhead the old flowers right after they senesce. Doing this regularly will encourage new shoots to grow during the summer season.

To encourage next year’s flowers, stop pruning the dead flowerheads by the end of the summer so that old wood remains to grow new shoots in the spring. 

If you are transplanting a hydrangea during the growing season, then lightly pruning the plant can help trigger it to spend more energy on the growth of its roots, which is beneficial directly after transplanting. 

FAQ Best Time to Transplant Hydrangeas