Large Tree Transplanting: How Big of a Tree Can Be Moved? - Backyard Boss
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Large Tree Transplanting: How Big of a Tree Can Be Moved?

Trees are a blessing and a curse, depending on how they deal with you! While trees provide privacy and shade, they can also damage your property and overturn surfaces, especially if they’re growing in your backyard. In addition, when you plant a young tree, you obviously can’t foresee how its growth will affect future development.

So when the time comes to execute your development plans, and you don’t want to kill the tree roots, the next best thing would be to transplant the tree. Like moving smaller trees, transplanting large trees is possible using the right strategies and expertise. As with everything else, planning and preparation are essential to successfully transplanting a large tree from one area to another.

Below, you’ll learn about transplanting large trees and the factors you should consider before taking up this mammoth task.

Transplanting Large Trees – Understanding the Process

transplanting trees
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Some people prefer to transplant large trees instead of chopping them down, especially if they’re in an inconvenient location blocking development or construction. Transplanting large trees is like transplanting smaller ones, but only on a larger scale!

To simplify the moving process and to boost the chances of a successful transplant, prune the tree’s roots six months or even one whole year before the big move. Pruning prevents the tree from transplant shock due to root loss at the time of transplant.

The best time to transplant trees and shrubs is in early spring when they’re dormant and before new growth begins.

Note: You may need to notify your local authorities before transplanting large trees. Please check the rules and regulations before attempting to move them.

1. Get the Root Ball Mass

measuring trees
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Using a ruler or tape measure, get the tree’s trunk diameter – measure about six inches above the ground to calculate the tree’s root ball mass. By doing this you are measuring for the trees caliper (the diameter of the tree trunk).

Let’s say you measure the diameter of a lovely backyard tree and it’s caliper is four inches. The root ball mass of a tree is 10 to 12 inches greater per inch. For example, if the trunk’s stem caliper is 4 inches, the tree’s root ball should be between 40 and 48 inches. It’s important to note that if the stem caliper is more than four inches, measure the trunk’s diameter at 12 inches above the ground.

Knowing the size of the tree’s root ball will help you dig an appropriately sized hole where you want to move the tree. When digging, separate the topsoil from the subsoil and keep them aside.

Pro-Tip: Don’t (re)plant the tree too deep. The top of the root ball should rest at or slightly above ground level to avoid suffocating the tree’s feeder roots, found in the top three to five inches of soil.

2. Storing Tree Before Transplant

Plant nursery. Young blue spruce prepared for transplant. Growing seedlings of coniferous trees. Nurseries may supply plants for gardens, agriculture, forestry and conservation biology.
Image credit: Jana Janina via Shutterstock

If you can’t replant the tree immediately, wrap the root ball with burlap as tightly as possible to prevent the soil from drying, cracking, or crumbling from the roots. This is essential to the tree’s survival. To wrap the root ball with burlap:

  1. Tip the root ball on one side.
  2. Slide a piece of rolled burlap under half of the root ball.
  3. Tip the root ball in the opposite direction.
  4. Pull the rolled burlap under the other half.
  5. Pull four corners of the burlap and tie on top.
  6. You can use twine to secure the burlap around the trunk’s base.

Store the tree in a location that provides easy water access for irrigation. Treat this as a temporary solution only.

3. Transporting The Tree

Digging up a tree, at sunset. Dig out tree roots around. To expose the root ball. A ten year old quince tree.
Image credit: theapflueger via Shutterstock

Moving the tree from point A to point B will be difficult, depending on the tree’s size and weight. For example, a root ball measuring 15 inches in diameter and 15 inches deep could weigh over 200 pounds! To avoid damage to the tree or the root ball, hire a professional arborist to help you move heavy trees from place to place. Use a tree spade to transport and transplant smaller trees or a crane to transport medium-sized trees.

When your in the process of transplanting, be sure to never lift the tree by the stem! Doing so can detach the root ball, causing tree shock and possibly premature death. To remove a medium sized tree from its original spot, dig underneath the root ball detaching it from the earth on all sides. You can then maneuver the roots onto a burlap material and remove it from the hole by pulling on the tarp the tree now rests on.

4. Transplanting The Tree

Moving large trees to conserve the garden
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Test the soil beforehand to ensure you’re providing the tree with a suitable environment for healthy growth. Replenish the soil’s nutrients, if required, but don’t add any fertilizer that contains nitrogen because it could suppress root growth. Ensure the hole is 50 percent wider than the root ball to avoid crowding or twisting the roots after cutting the burlap open.

The new hole should be as deep as the tree’s last hole to avoid suffocating the roots. Place the plant in the center of the hole, cut any twine or wires you used to support the burlap, unfasten the material from the top and the sides of the root ball, leaving it underneath. Don’t pull the burlap, as that will damage the tree’s roots.

Fill the hole with the subsoil you kept aside when digging the hole. After adding all the subsoil, watering thoroughly to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets.

Now, add the topsoil and water again to settle it. Finally, spread two to three inches of mulch around the base of the tree to help retain moisture, prevent weeds, and moderate temperature. Ensure the mulch doesn’t touch the tree trunk.

Pro-Tip: If you’re dealing with well-drained sandy soil, you’ll need half a gallon of water per square foot. You’ll need one quart of water per square foot for clay-like soils.

Post-Transplanting Care

large oak tree
Image credits: tkksummers via Creative Commons

A freshly transplanted tree is vulnerable to infections and pests, and this is why aftercare is crucial to the success of transplanting.

Surprisingly, there’s a way to calculate general recovery time. To do so, add the tree’s diameter by one to get an approximate number of years for transplant recovery.

For example, if the tree’s diameter is four inches, it would take the tree five years to recover from the transplant. Follow-up visits will include regular watering, mulching, pest control, and fertilizing.

Move It, Move It!

There are quite a few reasons to move a tree. If you don’t want to kill the tree, the next best thing is to transplant it. Moving a small tree is simple, but larger trees require the right strategies and expertise for a successful transplant. Hiring professionals to help you dig, transport, and transplant your tree is a good idea.

Hopefully, this article helped you understand what to keep in mind before and after transplanting your tree. Let us know your questions in the comment section below, and share this article if you liked it!

Happy Gardening!