Tree transplanting takes much more time and expertise than your typical tree care duties.
Why? Well, transplanting requires tampering with tree roots. Sprawling roots have lots of responsibilities—like anchoring a tree in place, transporting water and storing nutrients. That’s why cutting roots before transplanting can do some serious damage, and in the worst case, even kill a tree.
Before you attempt to prune roots on your own, read below to learn how to keep your tree as safe as possible in the process.
The transplanting process starts with tree root pruning. Trees can’t keep all of their roots in the move, so your task is to prune roots to establish a new root ball, which will eventually be transported to the new planting site.
Before diving in, take these steps:
Now, here's how to cut tree roots:
When it’s time to transplant, take a shovel about 5 inches outside of the circle you made for your new root ball. Then, dig around the root ball about 1 or 2 feet deep, and cut under the roots to lift the ball.
Quite a few factors determine whether or not your tree will survive root pruning, like its age, its overall health or how many roots you prune. Transplanting comes with risks, and there are no guarantee trees won’t suffer damage. But the best way to avoid a fatal cut is following best practices, including only transplanting small trees, doing the job at the right time of year, and not cutting too many roots. Perhaps the most important best practice: call an arborist if you’re not completely comfortable pruning roots on your own.
Unfortunately, there is no good rule of thumb for how many tree roots you can cut because every root system is different.
Only time will tell. If the roots are cut clean, they could regenerate new ones. Our best advice is to contact your local certified arborists.
Once you have a root ball ready to be placed in its new home, what’s next? Do you break up the root ball when planting?
Nope! In fact, you should do absolutely everything you can to keep the root ball together. To do that, make sure you have a large piece of burlap on hand when you’re about to lift the tree. Gently roll the root ball onto the burlap, tie it up, and carefully transport the tree.
On the low end, it will be a year before your tree starts to grow again after transplanting. But often, trees need even more time than that. Some trees take 2, 3 or up to 5 years to fully recover from transplanting.