How to transplant trees

Sometimes it makes sense to move a tree if it is in the way of construction or you are changing your landscaping plan. Here are some simple instructions for care will help insure your tree survives the stress of transplanting.

When spring is in the air, many gardeners' thoughts turn to sprucing up their yards with new plants and trees. Spring is a great time to transplant trees, and the steps below will help you successfully do it regardless of whether you buy your tree from a nursery or dig and move one yourself.

The transplanting process begins by seeking out the new site for your tree. You should look at the tree you want and its growing needs. Does it like sun or shade? How about moist or dry soil? You'll want to make sure you plant the tree in a location that meets all of these requirements. A move may even help a languishing specimen if it hasn't been getting what it needs in its current spot.

Before transplanting a tree, you must also take a few other things into consideration. Is the tree healthy? An already stressed plant will not do well in a move. If you see insect damage on the trunk and limp, spotted, or discolored leaves, pass the tree over for a healthier one. Is it too big? A sizeable specimen may be too heavy or you may not be able to get enough of the roots to make it a good transplanting candidate. Do you have a new place for it? You'll need to prepare your tree's new home immediately after digging it up. You should also determine whether any utilities are buried near where you want the new tree. Call your local digger's hotline.

Transplanting trees should be done when the tree is still dormant in the spring. If you can't move it in spring, or you come across a good end-of-season sale at a nursery, you can also transplant a tree in fall. You should just make sure the tree has dropped its leaves and will have enough time to develop new roots before the ground freezes for the winter. Summer comes with too many stresses to make transplanting a good idea. Searing heat and drowning downpours can take their toll on a newly planted tree, so avoid moving in summer if at all possible.

You should plan to spend at least an hour moving a tree. It may take longer to move a larger specimen. A few days before you move the tree, give it a gentle watering (unless it rains). This will make the soil a little easier to dig, and give the tree one good last drink.

On moving day, assemble all your tools before you begin. You'll need a sharp shovel, a hose, a stake and tie, compost, a tarp or burlap, peat moss, and mulch. Don't forget to line up some strong helpers if the tree seems as though it will be a bit heavy.

Now you are ready to transplant your tree! Dig up your tree by creating a circle with a 2' to 3' diameter around the perimeter of the trunk. Angle your spade in toward the tree as you go around. Once you dig in the last bit of your circle, you should be able to get your shovel under the tree to gently separate it from its current growing spot. Remove as much dirt as possible to make the tree lighter for moving. Then, gently slip the tree onto a heavy-duty tarp. Enlist help if it is too heavy or cumbersome for you to do alone. Tow it to the place where you will create its new home.

To keep the tree comfortable while you dig its new home, you need to keep its roots damp. Cover them gently with the peat moss and wrap in a piece of burlap. If you need to transport the tree from far away (for instance, from a construction site to your home), wrap the burlap around the roots from the bottom, and tie it closed. Water well, and work quickly because the more time the tree is out of the ground, the more stressed it gets.

Now, dig a hole as deep as the root ball. Any deeper will cause the tree to settle, and create a sunken area for water to collect at the base of the tree. (You can check to make sure the hole is at the right depth by putting the tree into the hole, then checking the trunk level by placing a stick across the middle of the hole. The bottom of the tree should be level with the stick.) You'll also want to make the hole twice as wide as the root ball. This will give the roots softer soil to spread out in, making the tree more stable and able to withstand strong winds. You can put a thin layer of compost in the bottom of the hole, and water it well. This will give your tree a nutritious, moist start in its new home.

If you are planting the tree in a windy site, pound a stake into the hole just to the side of where the tree's trunk will be. After the tree is in place, you will lash the its trunk to the stake with enough slack to allow it to still move, but enough tightness to keep it from flopping over in a strong breeze.

Finally you can gently place the tree in the hole you just created. Carefully fan out the roots and adjust the trunk so it is straight. Back fill the hole, being careful not to bury the junction between the tree trunk and the soil. You'll also want to add a couple inches of mulch around the tree, keeping it away from the trunk itself. The mulch will keep moisture in the soil, an important thing in the first year after transplanting.

Now, the waiting game begins. You'll need to water the tree well until it is established. It should get a thorough weekly soaking of about an inch of water. As for pruning, you can remove infected or broken branches, but wait to do any major reshaping until the tree is growing well. With enough preparation and after-care, you will be able to enjoy your transplanted tree for many years to come.

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