Transplanting Trees

Tree transplanting is hard work that requires heavy lifting and a strong back

Transplanting larger trees is best left to professionals with a crew of 'strong backs.' Why is that? Because for every one inch of tree trunk diameter, the root ball requires one foot of earth ball diameter. Therefore, a 3-inch caliper tree requires a 36-inch diameter ball, which weighs approximately 1,100 lbs (over half a ton).

Balled & Burlapped tree
One inch of trunk diameter
should equal one foot of
root ball

Pruning Tree Roots

An important factor in transplanting success is root pruning. Nursery grown trees have often been root pruned during their juvenile years, to condense their root systems into a more compact area, making their transplant more successful. Root systems that have never been root pruned tend to be more widespread, and have more roots left behind when they are dug, decreasing their chance of survival.

tree spades on a skid steer loader
Nurseries use hydraulic tree spades to dig trees

When to transplant trees

The most important factor in transplanting trees is moving them at the right time of year. Most deciduous trees are transplanted during their dormant season, when leaves are off the tree, spring or fall.
Fall - Once there are a couple hard freezes (temps below 32-degrees F), leaves are dropping, and the tree is entering dormancy.
Spring - Once deep frost has left the soil, but before the tree breaks bud and begins to leaf out.


Trees for "Spring Only" transplanting

The old rule of thumb is to only transplant 'fleshy rooted' plants and oaks in the spring. While fall transplants may succeed with special care, below is a list of trees best transplanted in the spring.

Tree Genus Common Name
Betula Birch
Cercis Redbud
Cornus Dogwood
Craetegus Hawthorn
Liriodendron Tulip Tree
Liquidambar Sweetgum
Magnolia Magnolia
Oxydendron Sourgum
Platanus Sycamore
Populus Poplar
Prunus Plum
Pyrus Pear
Quercus Oak
Salix Willow
Zelkova Zelkova


Proper watering of a freshly transplanted tree

  • Water trees thoroughly once a week if there is less than one inch of rainfall per week.*
  • Water should be applied slowly and repeatedly to give it time to soak in. Move your hose around the base of the tree to completely water all areas of the root zone (moving the hose around is important since water tends to travel straight down).
  • The best time of day to water is morning. If plant foliage remains wet overnight, it provides an ideal environment for fungi.
  • Monitor your tree for any signs of water stress such as wilting.
  • Plants will need more frequent watering when they are actively growing than when they are dormant.
  • *On occasion, you'll plant trees in hard, compacted clay, usually in new neighborhoods or condominium plans. In this situation, extend your watering intervals to once every two weeks for larger trees, since this kind of planting hole can act like a bathtub, holding water for a long time and suffocating the tree roots.


Salt Tolerant Trees

Snow damaged trees

When is the best time to transplant trees?


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