What Should I Know About Tree Transplanting?

Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Before undergoing a tree transplanting project, it is important to understand all the components. Otherwise, the project could be a failure – and the final result could be a dead tree. With the proper information, tree transplanting can be successfully and easily completed.

If you don't understand the process of tree transplanting before attempting it, the end result will likely be a dead tree.
If you don't understand the process of tree transplanting before attempting it, the end result will likely be a dead tree.

First, there are two places of origin for tree that will be transplanted: the wild or the nursery. Trees dug up from the wild are much harder to transplant than trees that are purchased from the nursery. Even after a nursery tree is removed from its nursery bed, the majority of its root system is still intact. Alternatively, most people only keep a quarter of the root system intact for trees dug up from the wild. Also, trees grown in a nursery are wrapped in a particular way, with their roots wrapped in a burlap bag filled with soil or in a container.

Trees from nurseries will have a more intact root system than trees dug up in the wild.
Trees from nurseries will have a more intact root system than trees dug up in the wild.

Second, consider the type of tree before starting a tree transplanting project. Some types are hardier than other. For example, in most areas, birch, cottonwood, willows, and ash have a high tolerance to being transplanted. They are the least likely to suffer stress from the tree transplanting process. Walnut trees typically do not transplant well. Area conservation offices will help direct people in choosing the perfect tree for their area.

Third, consider the time of year that the tree transplanting will be completed. It is important not to transplant trees during the winter – in cold climates. If the ground is frozen, the tree will not live. Usually the best time of year transplant trees is in the early Spring, before they bud, or in the early Fall, after they lose their leaves. Again, in some areas, the ground never freezes and trees never lose their leaves – so, it gives a wider timeframe for planting.

Third, the place where the tree will be transplanted to is very important to its ability to thrive. For example, some trees are susceptible to changes in light, wind, the pH of the soil, and the amount of water available. In addition, before the tree transplanting is underway, consider the type of soil. If it is too sandy, rocky or has poor drainage, it could also affect the life of the tree.

Fourth, know how to dig the tree out of the ground, if it is in the wild, or how to care for it in its burlap sack or container, if it is from the nursery. When digging the tree in the wild, the roots should be cleanly cut with a spade. As much soil as possible should be kept with the roots, as well. In general, a trunk that is 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter should have a 12 inch (30.5 cm) soil ball. So, it continues that a trunk that is 2 inches (5.1 cm) in diameter should have a 24 inch (61 cm) soil ball. Even in the wild the roots and soil ball can be wrapped in burlap. Whether from the wild or the nursery, the roots should never become dry.

Fifth, tree transplanting requires adequate planting holes. Typically, holes should be about 3 times larger than the soil ball. Also, if the sides of the hole become smooth when digging, because it is comprised of clay, use a spade to roughen the sides - allowing the roots room to grow and establish themselves in the soil. In addition, if the soil is dry, water the hole before planting the tree. It is also helpful to the tree if it is oriented towards the sun in the same way as it was before transplanting.

By following these handy steps and by consulting with area conservation offices, transplanting trees from the wild or from a nursery can be quite simple. Researching each type of tree and soil properties is the best way to choose the perfect tree. A little hard work and a beautiful tree can have new home in any yard.

Cottonwood trees have a high tolerance for being transplanted in most areas.
Cottonwood trees have a high tolerance for being transplanted in most areas.
Dee Saale
Dee Saale

Dee is a freelance writer based in Colorado. She has a B.A. in English Literature, as well as a law degree. Dee is especially interested in topics relating to medicine, legal issues, and home improvement, which are her specialty when contributing to wiseGEEK.

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Discussion Comments


I agree with the article that you want the roots of the tree you are transplanting to remain wet while it is being moved. I like to start watering the plant two to three days before I plan to remove it.

When I place the tree in the new hole, I make sure to get the soil at the same level as the tree was in previously. You can look at the tree and see where the original soil line was. This may not seem like a big issue, but more soil or less soil can put extra stress on the tree as it tries to reestablish itself.

Once the tree is replanted, be sure to give it sufficient water, and continue to keep the roots moist until the tree catches hold and begins to show signs of adjusting.


I agree with this article that timing is of ultimate importance when it comes to successfully transplanting a tree. I have had some success in transplanting trees, but mostly the plants died. I always assumed that trees needed to be transplanted during the spring, but I know that this is not always the case, as this article alluded to.

Generally speaking, softwood plants should be uprooted and replanted any time during their growing season. The key is to determine when the tree is in its growing season and then pick a time to transplant the tree that fits into that window.

Hardwoods, however, should be transplanted before the growing season, so they can have time to adapt to their new environment before the budding process begins. However, if you are in a cold weather climate, remember what this article said about the ground needing to be thawed before the transplanting takes place.

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