How to Transplant a Tree

Instead of chopping down a poorly located or overcrowded tree, transplant it to a better spot in your yard where it can be enjoyed for years to come.

Tree Transplanting

Overcrowding often decreases the number of nutrients plants absorb from soil. This can cause developmental problems and even stunt growth. Digging up small trees and moving them to a new location can be intimidating, but it's often necessary to grow healthy plants. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about transplanting trees — both evergreen and deciduous.

When Should You Transplant?

Late fall or winter, when the plant is dormant, is the best time to move deciduous shrubs and trees. Growth is at a standstill, meaning you won't have to worry about transplant shock. You can also move deciduous trees in early spring, just as the buds begin to swell. The swelling buds are the first sign of growth on the upper portion of the plant, and in another week or so, the roots will begin to grow as well. For evergreen trees, it's best to transplant in late summer or early fall so the roots have time to establish before cold weather arrives.

Find a Spot with Room to Grow

For a smooth transition, dig the new hole first. This prevents the roots of the tree from drying out while the new hole is being prepared. If you have to wait, even half an hour, wrap the root ball in several layers of moist newspaper or some burlap so the roots don't dry out. Save the dug-up soil for later. 
Tip: When digging, keep in mind that the hole should be wider, not deeper. The vast majority of a plant's roots reside in the top 12 inches of soil, so it isn't necessary to dig deeper than that, especially in the case of a small tree. Even when transplanting a much larger tree size you don't need to dig down more than 18" to 24".

Dig It Up

Now that the new location is prepped, you're ready to transplant. First, soak the roots of the tree with a water hose. Using a shovel, dig in a circle until the plant moves easily. Not sure how wide to dig the root ball? Measure the trunk one foot off the ground. Then, measure the caliper (diameter) of the tree at that point and multiply that by 18. The number you get is the diameter of the root ball that should be dug. Slice through the soil at a slight angle toward the base of the tree, using sharp shovel movements to prevent root damage. Lift up with the shovel as you go to loosen the roots.

Tarp It

Gently remove the tree and wrap it in a tarp to make moving a breeze. If the soil falls away from the root ball when you lift it out, that's okay. It will give you a chance to tease the roots a bit. 
Tip: Enlist a friend to help lift the tree out of the ground — even small root balls can weigh 100 pounds or more. For a larger tree, you may need special machinery and/or us to make the move. Our landscaping department will be happy to help.

Save Your Back

Lift the tarp from both ends, making sure to never pull on the trunk. Place the tree in a wheelbarrow (back saver!) and move to the new location.

Plant It

Lift the tarp (again, careful not to bend the trunk) and gently place the root ball in your pre-dug hole. Leaving up to one-third of the root ball above ground, surround the roots with enough ground soil (that you saved earlier) to stabilize the tree and make sure it's straight.

Add Compost

Once the tree is stable, fill the rest of the hole with compost, tamping it down lightly as you go.

Water Well

Watering is one of the most important steps. Newly planted trees require more care than established plants, so make sure to water frequently if the forecast doesn't call for rain.

Top It Off With Mulch

Apply a 2-inch layer of mulch on top of the root ball to retain moisture, but avoid filling in mulch all the way up to the trunk.

Enjoy & Maintain

With a new place to call home, this tree has room to grow. 


Maintenance Tips: To lower energy expenditure, cut back as much as one-third of the tree's growth from the interior part of the tree. This allows the roots to establish without too much strain to the plant. Water deeply every day for two weeks and don't fertilize for at least a year so the roots can focus on establishing themselves. If the tree seems unstable or will experience a lot of wind, you may want to stake it.