Transplanting Native Plants
By Dwight S. Hall, Extension Horticulturist (Retired)
Many desirable native or wild Texas plants are adaptable for the home landscape. The natives
are hardy to local weather conditions, local soils, and perhaps more tolerant of local garden
insects and diseases. Most natives are easy to grow, yet the task of successfully transplanting the
desired native from the wild is often difficult, and must be done with care.
The wet, cold days of winter are ideal times for transplanting plants, both native or cultivated
species. Due to cold, the plants are dormant or in a state of rest, and will not suffer the shock of
moving and the interruption of growth.
Special precautions must be taken when selecting native plants for transplanting. Even though
these plants are hardy, it is often difficult for the home owner to substitute the natural or native
woodland environment which nature has provided. The gardener must first ask if he or she can
provide growing conditions similar to those in which the plant now thrives. If not, leave the
plant to nature.
Before digging, the home owner must decide which native plants will best fit his or her
landscape needs. It would be unwise to select a native dogwood for a sunny location, since
dogwood demands shade or overhead protection. The planting area for the new plant should be
well prepared prior to transplanting. Dig the planting hole both wider and deeper than the native
plant's root system. Add woods loam, peat or humus, or, preferably, the type of soil from which
the native is taken. Have leaf mold and loam on hand to fill in or work around the new plant's
In choosing the native plant to transplant, do not attempt to transplant an overly large specimen.
Small plants are usually more vigorous. They grow much faster and are easier to handle. It may
be necessary to tag the plant in the wild while in leaf or berry to be sure of a positive
identification. Young elms, void of foliage, often resemble native redbuds. Not all hollies will
produce berries; in selecting yaupon, deciduous holly, and American holly, choose the female
plants with berries.
Particularly in the case of large specimens, it may be well to prune the root system of the selected
native prior to digging. Prune the plant's lateral roots at least one growing season prior to
complete transplanting. Making spade cuts around the plant helps it to adjust to shock prior to
transplanting and develop a more intensive root system.
When transplanting, lift the plant with a ball of earth if possible. Wrap the ball with a moist
burlap sack or similar material for easy transferal and to prevent disturbance of the root system.
Plant the native plant at its normal growth depth immediately after digging. Water well after
planting, and mulch over the root areas with leaves, straw, or leaf mold.
Pruning transplanted plants is often difficult for the gardener, but usually is essential for
viability. Cut back the upper branches and end shoots of limbs to compensate for loss of root
area and to encourage new branching and foliage growth come spring. Some of the foliage
should be stripped or removed from evergreen plants.
Some of the most desirable and abundant native plants that may be transplanted now include:
Dogwood, Redbud, River Birch, Sassafras, Cherry, Laurel, Native Oaks, Elms, and Maples.
Regardless of your choice, be sure you transplant with caution and care; otherwise, leave it to