How to Transplant a Tree: What to Do and What Not To Do

How to Transplant a Tree: What to Do and What Not To Do

Trees root into the earth, but that doesn’t mean they are impossible to remove from the ground and transport to a new home.

You love your trees, but sometimes they’re better suited for locations elsewhere. Perhaps they’ve out-grown the space in which they’re rooted, or, maybe you plan to move somewhere new but wish to bring that special tree along with you.

Regardless of the tree you’re moving and the space to which you plant transport it, there are several guidelines to follow for the safe and proper transplanting of trees:

1. There and good and not-so-ideal times of the year to transplant trees. “The best time to transplant a tree is when it’s dormant and the ground conditions are ‘just right,’” says Rick Hanshaw, manager of the Davey Nursery in Wooster, Ohio. “These conditions typically occur in spring and fall, before frost develops in the soil. You just don’t want to transplant a tree when its canopy is full expressed.”

If you transplant a tree during winter, when frost resides in the soil, you risk root damage once the frost thaws and creates air pockets. This can cause settling, which induces leaning of the tree’s structure.

2. Ideal transplanting locations depend on the size and species of the tree you transplant. According to Hanshaw, trees prefer different levels of shade and sun, as well as varying soil drainage conditions. The potential height and size of the tree and the location of home foundations, power lines and underground utilities all affect the transplanting location.

“You need to identify the tree species first,” Hanshaw says. “There are a lot of different variables involved with choosing the correct location to which to transplant a tree.”

3. There isn’t a big difference between transplanting mature trees vs. young trees. The vigorous growth rate and easily manageable root ball of a young tree make its transplanting process fairly easy. However, all trees experience some degree of shock after being transplanted—the length of recovery time simply depends on the quality of after care.

“Mature trees will just take more after care than younger trees after being transplanted,” Hanshaw says.

4. Some tree species react better to transplanting than others. According to Hanshaw, red maples, elms and bald cypress generally respond better to being transplanted than other species, in northern regions, in particular. “Specifically red maples have much more fibrous root systems of which you can capture more when digging,” Hanshaw explains.

According to Sean Jackson, branch manager of Davey’s Jacksonville commercial landscape services, however, most trees will move well, assuming proper time is allotted to correctly fertilize, root prune, dig a the properly sized root ball and water before and after transplanting.

“It is equally important to continue a pest management/fertilization program after transplanting, as the tree can have a 1- to 2-year root transition growth before becoming reestablished,” Jackson says.

The only conditions for which we do not recommend relocating a tree include:

a. The tree is in a state of stress/deterioration that would warrant a removal.

b. The new location is unsuitable for the specified tree.

5. Several steps are involved for successful tree transplanting:

a. Ensure the time and budget required to transplant a tree in a careful, timely manner is available.

b. Your tree will lose a significant amount of its root system during transplanting. Make sure it’s well-hydrated before the transplanting process begins.

c. Once the tree is uprooted, tie up the crown as much as possible to reduce limb breakage during the move.

d. Wrap the tree in a tarp to reduce wind damage moisture loss.

e. Water the tree as soon as possible after transplanting. This is most important.

f. Follow up with proper tree care and inspections for insect damage.

If you’re thinking about transplanting one of your trees this spring, contact your local, professionally-trained Davey arborist for a free consultation.

  • The Tree Doctor March 22, 2017 >Hi Rob. We can help with that! During your free consultation, we'll provide a quote along with more info on how the whole transplanting process works. I've passed along your request to your local office, so they'll be reaching out soon. If you'd prefer, you can contact them directly by calling 440-220-4180 or filling out this form: davey.com/local-offices/east-cleveland-tree-service-and-lawn-service/#main-form. Either way, talk more soon, Rob.
  • Rob Ward March 22, 2017 >Looking for a quote and understanding of tree transplanting for moving a blue spruce pine tree in my yard.
  • Dana Logan November 6, 2016 >We are in Traverse City, MI. Do you service this area? We would like to move a tree about 50 feet on our property...it is currently about 10 feet tall and 3 inches across on the trunk. Not sure if moving early November is still a good time for this fall? We would appreciate professional opinion. Thank you
  • The Tree Doctor October 24, 2016 >Hi there Tim. Thanks for reaching out to Davey for help transplanting your tree. Unfortunately, we don't offer residential tree care in your neck of the woods. Sorry! Here if there's anything else we can do to help, Tim.
  • Tim Schromm October 22, 2016 >Do you guys do large tree moving in my area ?
  • The Tree Doctor April 14, 2016 >Hi William, Thanks so much for reaching out to Davey for help. We're here to help remove your evergreen and find the perfect, new tree to replace it. Your next step? Reach out to your local Davey tree office. They'll discuss the details of removing and adding a new tree - and provide a quote and time frame. You can contact them online at: http://www.davey.com/local-offices/south-detroit-tree-service/#main-form. Or, give them a call at 734-389-8148. Wishing you and your trees all the best, William!
  • William Allen April 14, 2016 >I have a evergreen, over 30 feet tall, that is only 4 feet from the front of my house. I would like to remove it, and plant a new evergreen about 10 feet further out in the yard. The new location is a site where a flowering plum tree was removed 2.5 years ago. I would like the new tree to be about 10 feet tall, if possible.
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