How To Transplant Trees


By: LeAnn R. Ralph

With a little patience and tender loving care, you can easily transplant small trees that you have found growing in a ditch or that are growing on one part of your property but that you would like to move to another part of your property.

Spring is the best time to transplant trees. Transplanting in the spring will allow the trees to develop more roots before winter arrives again and they go dormant.

Here are 10 steps for transplanting trees:

  1. Identify and select the trees you would like to transplant. Smaller is better, although if they are too small (seedlings that are only a few inches high), their chances for survival are less. Over the last 10 years, my husband and I have discovered that the best sized trees for transplanting range from six inches to two feet tall.

  2. Fill a bucket or another container half full of water. It is very important to keep the roots of the tree wet between the time you dig it up and the time you transplant it, even if you are digging up the tree and moving it immediately. Trees cannot seem to tolerate their roots drying out, even if it's only for five minutes.

  3. Dig carefully around the tree using a spade or a shovel. Remember that there is as much tree below ground as you can see above ground. In other words, if the tree is 10 inches high and the branches all together from side to side measure 20 inches, that means the tap root is 10 inches deep and that the other roots spread out from around the tree at least 10 inches on each side. The wider and deeper you can dig around the tree, the less likely it is that you will be cutting roots. If you can avoid cutting too many roots, your tree will stand a better chance of surviving.

  4. Put the tree in the pail of water after you have dug it out of the ground.

  5. Dig a hole where you want to transplant the tree. Make sure the hole is big enough to accommodate the length of the tap root and the width of the other roots. For good measure, you might want to put manure in the bottom of the hole so that the tree has some fertilizer. (You can buy dried manure in bags at garden shops.)

  6. Pour water into the hole before putting the tree into the hole. This will ensure that there is plenty of moisture at the tip of the roots.

  7. Place the tree in the center of the hole. Keeping the tree level, put dirt back into the hole around the roots.

  8. Leave a shallow depression three or four inches deep all the way around the tree instead of mounding the dirt up around the trunk. When it comes time to water the tree, if you leave a shallow reservoir around the trunk, the water will have a chance to soak in right by the tree instead of draining away.

  9. Pour several gallons of water around the tree after you have planted it. Transplanted trees need more water than other trees to help them get over the shock of being moved.

  10. Water your transplanted trees regularly during the summer and early fall. For larger trees, give five gallons of water. For smaller trees, give one to two gallons of water. Water your trees every other day if it is dry where you live or if you have drought conditions. If it is raining regularly (1 to 2 inches per week or more), water two or three times a week. Continue watering throughout the first year and the second year. After the trees have become established, you will not have to water them as much, and eventually, you won't have to water them at all.

Observations about transplanting trees:

  1. If you transplant a deciduous tree after the tree has leaves (oak, maple, or other trees with leaves), and the tree loses its leaves, do not give up hope. We have transplanted small maple trees with leaves that immediately lost their leaves. A couple of weeks later, the trees sprouted new leaves and went on growing as if nothing had happened.

  2. Trees that are watered regularly grow faster than trees that do not receive as much water. A few years ago after we had transplanted a couple of maple trees, I missed one (couldn't see it in the tall grass around it). I watered the other trees I could see, but the one I couldn't see got left out. In the fall, I discovered the tree I had missed, and I noticed that over the summer, the other trees had grown much more than the one which did not receive water.

  3. If you transplant a pine tree and the needles turn brown, that's it for the pine tree. None of the pine trees we have transplanted that turned brown have ever come back.

  4. Be careful about digging up trees to transplant that are not on your property. In the state of Wisconsin, for example, it is illegal to dig up anything that is in a state park or is growing in the ditch along a road that runs through a state park. And of course, if the trees are on someone else's property, make sure that you receive permission from the landowner.

© 2005 LeAnn R. Ralph

LeAnn R. Ralph is the author of the books Christmas in Dairyland (True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm; Give Me a Home Where the Dairy Cows Roam; Preserve Your Family History (A Step-by-Step Guide for Interviewing Family Members and Writing Oral Histories" (e-book 2004). You are invited to read sample chapters and to sign up for the free monthly newsletter, Rural Route 2 News - http://ruralroute2.com/.

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