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. Click here to find the best months of year to transplant your tree, including your pine, oak, maple or fruit tree. 

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 December 6, 2018 >Hi Jeff, I suggest you contact one of the large nursery/landscape companies in your area to see if they would be interested in taking your tree. Moving larger sized trees requires specialized equipment and techniques to do properly, but still involves risk. It will also depend on the tree’s location and overall health. A large landscaping contractor may have the equipment and have a client/site that could use the large tree. Otherwise, you may have to plan on having the tree removed. Hopefully, this helps. Best of luck to you, Jeff
  • the Tree Doctor December 6, 2018 >Hi Tom, Moving large trees comes with risks. Only a small portion of the tree’s total root system can be moved with the tree. This puts the tree at an increased risk of transplant shock once it is relocated. The smaller root system has reduced ability to draw water and nutrients to support the full-sized crown. This is exacerbated if hot, dry weather characterizes the period following the transplanting process. While the transplanted tree can grow new roots to replace those lost, the tree remains at risk during the time it takes for the roots to grow. In general, one year is required for each inch of trunk diameter for a tree to fully replace the lost roots. I would recommend having a certified arborist come out and inspect the tree, along with the location. They will be able to give you their best recommendation on how to move forward with this. You can contact your local Davey Tree office directly at (518) 618-3642. You can also fill out a consultation request form on their local webpage here: Hopefully, this helps. Best of luck to you, Tom.
  • Tom Coates December 4, 2018 >Hi Davey's, I have a 20-24 tall Alaskan weeping cypress which is very healthy, but has grown too big for it's location. I'd like to move it 30-50 feet from its current spot. The challenge is it is at the edge of the driveway and the house is close too. What do you suggest? Tom
  • JEFF BOGIA December 3, 2018 >I have, what I think is, a 10-12' spruce in my front yard. Free to a good home. It's growing over my water line and eventually I will have a new gas line installed. I don't want to kill this tree. I should have dug it up when it was younger. Can it be moved? Know anyone who would want this tree? Yes, it's the season to kill a spruce but I didn't want that.
  • the Tree Doctor October 1, 2018 >Hi Clement, Elms are best transplanted in the spring. I suggest around the date that Arbor Day is celebrated in your state. Michigan celebrates the last Friday in April.
  • clement geisler September 24, 2018 >i want to transplant an elm tree when is the best time
  • The Tree Doctor July 31, 2018 > Hi Eran, I sent this request to your local office. They will reach out to you as soon as they can. If you would like to contact them directly, you can do so at (716) 235-5298. Best of luck to you. Here if you need anything else, Eran.
  • eran colbus July 31, 2018 >I have a wisteria tree about 10 feet tall and the truck is 4inches dia. I need it moved from in front of my house 3 feet out from the side, to 5 ft away.What might bee the expected costs?
  • The Tree Doctor May 23, 2018 >Hi David, Unfortunately, Davey does not service your area based on the zip code provided. Here is a resource that may be helpful with finding a reputable tree service or arborist: Most reputable tree service companies should provide you with a quote at no cost to you. Hopefully, this helps! Here if you have any more questions, David.
  • David Johnston May 23, 2018 >I have 2 trees I’d like relocated. Both approx 43” in diameter. 1 on backyard parameter to front yard. 1 in middle of yard to location of previously moved tree. I’d like an estimate so I can determine cost effectiveness and feasiblity. Thank you David
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