There may come a time when you decide a tree or shrub in your landscape would look better in another spot. You can successfully transplant these plants as long as you use TLC to protect the plant’s root ball. Here’s our guide to transplanting trees from right here to over there.
Before you start
America has more underground utility lines than ever before. So don’t thrust a shovel into the ground without calling 811, the nationwide line for locating electrical, gas and communications lines, to make sure your chosen spot is clear.
Consider the following when choosing a new location for your tree or bush.
- Does your plant love sun or shade? Choose an area in your yard that suits the plant’s needs.
- Does it need lots of water or is it more drought tolerant?
- Does it send large roots to the sides that could endanger sewer lines, a paved area or your home’s foundation? The larger the plant, the farther away it should be from anything it could uproot. Even the smallest trees should be at least 10 feet away.
- The best times of year for transplanting trees or shrubs are late fall and early spring, when the plant is going into or about to come out of winter dormancy. To promote good root establishment, make sure to transplant trees and other plants before the first or after the last freeze of the year.
When you’re ready for the actual move, gather your supplies. You’ll need a flat spade, a good digging shovel, pruning shears, bags of mulch, a tape measure, a water hose attached to a nearby faucet and a plastic or canvas tarp.
How far to dig
You may have heard some myths about transplanting trees that need dispelling before you begin to dig.
You cannot judge the extent of a tree’s roots by the span of the foliage canopy. Actually, a mature tree’s roots may extend as far as three times the size of this drip line. Also, not all trees have a main tap root. Many will start with one as saplings and then rely on nutrients drawn from lateral roots encircling the tree.
To determine where to dig around a tree, measure the diameter of the trunk. The root ball should generally have one foot of diameter per inch of trunk diameter. So, for a tree with a three-inch diameter trunk, figure on a three-foot diameter root ball. (If your tree or shrub is larger than this, hire a professional to move it.)
Do not dig the tree up yet. Instead, make an exploratory probe with your shovel to check root growth on the line where you ultimately plan to dig.
Prepare the new home
Next, dig a hole at the plant’s new location large enough to accommodate the expected size of the root ball. Don’t dig so deep that the topsoil of the root ball will end up below ground. Also avoid softening the soil at the bottom of the hole. Both of these steps could pool water and cause roots to rot.
Digging up the tree
Once the new hole is dug, use the spade to dig a one-foot-wide trench around the plant along the circumference you determined earlier. Cut any roots that extend beyond that circle. Continue digging down and under the tree until you free it.
Spread the tarp next to the root ball. Recruit some help to lift the tree and roots onto the tarp, then carefully wrap the root ball and drag the plant to its new location. While grappling with a tree, take care not to grab limbs small enough to potentially break off. If the new location is far, use a wheelbarrow or even the back of a pickup truck to move the tree.
Gently lower the root ball into the new hole. Shovel excavated soil around the circumference, tapping down as you go to eliminate gaps and air pockets. Once you’ve finished, spread a three-inch layer of mulch around the tree and water well. The mulch will preserve moisture in the ground and feed micronutrients to the tree.