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How to move a Magnolia

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A recent enquiry to the help page was about moving an established  Magnolia, unfortunately on this occasion technology refuses to allow the Sunday Gardener to connect with the senders e mail address so instead the advise is posted below and hopefully the information will be found.

The first piece of advice is not to move it if at all possible.  Moving a large established shrub is difficult and very often the shrub will not survive, or subsequently thrive,  and Magnolias are not keen on being transplanted. They  have an usual root system which makes it more difficult to re establish the shrub.  With a mature shrub the root ball will be large and the whole plant will be very heavy and may need professional assistance with lifting gear to help/do the job.Even with great care, there is  more than a chance it will not survive.  If you have time to plan the move, its better 6 months/ a year before to cut down into the roots in a large circle around the plant. This encourages it to throw out new roots  to develop a better root system which  will help  establish the plant when you move it later.  That said, most of us just don't have that much time and planning in life.  Timing wise,  the best time to ove  a Magnolia  is anytime from late Autumn,  to the very early spring February , as it needs to be done whilst the plant is dormant. If moved during the winter months pick a mild spell so that ground can be dug and its not frozen or waterlogged.

Prepare the spot where the Magnolia is being moved to in advance and it will need to be a large hole in which the roots can spread, and if the soil is poor ensure that organic material is dug in. Dig the hole at least a foot larger in diameter/up to twice the size of the root ball of the Magnolia. If you can lift and replant together, this reduces the water loss from the roots and gives the best chance of survival.
Next,  determined the extent of the roots on the Magnolia and aim to lift the plant with as much of the root ball intact as is possible.  A good starting point is to dig in a straight line down from the branches so the you dig down in a circle around the fullest extent of the shrub. Roots are shallow rather than deep so its likely to be large circle. The least you disturb the roots, the better the chances.

Once  it's levered it out, lift it onto a large piece of damp Hessian, if not, a  tarpaulin  so as to wrap up the roots and then transplant to the prepared spot. Place in the prepared hole and plant so its at the same soil level as before, do not plant too deep. Fill in around the shrub with good soil and organic material and water in well. Tread in well to make sure the soil is packed down with no air pockets and the Magnolia  firmly planted. If its very large and the re planted spot is exposed, consider staking. In any event water well for the first month after transplanting especially if its dry. The shrub is at risk of loosing moisture so a mulch would help to retain moisture and feed in the spring.

The Sunday Gardener

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  1. Michael

    Is it possible to move a miniature Magnolia from the ground to a pot Yes follow the same advice.

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  2. Phyllis

    I have a star magnolia, planted 7 years ago. Our yard is all sand. We added proper soil and it is growing, all green and flowers each year, not many, but not growing at all. It is the same size and height as when we planted it Is it safe to move to my garden that has six to seven feet of good soil ? Two choices: wait another year and see if it settles and flowers next spring, or move it now based on the fact if it’s not flowering it’s not a great shrub at present.

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  3. Nicola Goodbrand

    My magnolia hasn't flowered this Spring. Is it because I transferred it from a pot to open ground in February. I didn't damage the root ball or plant it too deep. I watered it weekly. Hi Nicola, Moving it could well be the reason especially as you moved it in February which is relatively close to its flowering time. Continue to water and hopefully it will produce some leaves and return to normal for next year.

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  4. Jane Snowdon

    Hello. I have a 8 year old magnolia that I started from a cutting. The neighbour's have not taken care of their wooden fence and I'm afraid it may fall over. Any idea how big a root ball it may have at this tender move it. It just started blooming last year. Thankyou It’s very hard to tell given different growing conditions and varieties. Magnolia tend to have lateral growth. A good rule of thumb is to assume the root is a similar size to the canopy and dig up as much as you can manage.

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  5. Judith

    Have moved to a house with a balcony and previous owners planted a magnolia right in front which will grown and block the view of the rest of the garden. I don't think it's very old and was considering moving it until I read your advice. Will it take pruning to stop it getting too high? I do love magnolias but it was a silly place to plant it. Your advice would be much appreciated. Thank you Hi Judith, There are a limited number of small Magnolias but most are large and as such hard to contain with pruning. I would move it whilst it’s still immature and you have the best chance of moving it successfully.

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  6. Colin

    A magnolia stick arrived in March. Since then it has grown surprisingly well. Is this age of tree ok to transplant? I suspect the root system is small. Hi Colin I would move it. Often it is easier to move a shrub when it is small and I would do it now, whilst the soil is still warm and there are autumn rains to come. Even so make sure you water it well .

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  7. Antonio Rentas


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  8. Doreen Byhurst

    I too have a magnolia which I think would be in a happier place. Mine is 5 yrs old but not that big but healthy. However it only produced 2 flowers this year and 3 last year. I feed it regularly as soil very chalky in the front garden but have clay in the back. Do you think it would happier there.

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  9. Mrs Penny Wheatley

    Your advise on moving a magnolia is very helpful. I realise I have missed the chance this year. We have a two year old magnolia stellata, so I will move it to a more appropriate position in the autumn when the plant has gone dormant. Can I also cut it back, reshape it, on the run up to the autumn. It's been boxed in by other bushes and is a bit lop sided. Penny- agree with your plan when to move and when to prune, between mid summer and the autumn is best for pruning.

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