When’s the best time to transplant a lilac shrub? —Kimberly Fretwell, White Marsh, MD
You have quite a bit of latitude if you’re planting a containerized or balled and burlapped lilac from a nursery or garden center. Any time from spring through fall will work, provided you keep it watered during hot, dry weather. However, if you’re moving a lilac from one part of your landscape to another, some times work better than others.
If you live in a cold climate, it’s best to transplant small trees and shrubs first thing in spring, as soon as the soil is no longer wet and mucky. That way, they have the entire growing season to become re-established before harsh winter weather sets in. If you live in a place where summers are very hot and winters are mild, transplant in early fall.
No matter how carefully you transplant the lilac, you’re bound to damage and lose some roots. Prune the canes and branches back by about a quarter of their length so the reduced root system will not be overwhelmed and unable to support the top growth.