A tree’s size, weight, and stability make it seem a permanent part of the landscape, but there are times when it is necessary to move a tree. Small or young trees, for example, may need to be temporarily stored out of the way of construction projects. And some trees should be permanently moved away from areas with poor drainage, unfavorable soil conditions, or extreme wind. Mature trees in good health can also be relocated to fit a new landscape plan.
In general, those trees up to 10 feet tall with trunks up to 3 inches thick can be moved with relative ease and can be expected to thrive after the experience. Larger trees, however, are unwieldy and are more vulnerable to shock; the job of moving them should be evaluated—and usually performed—by a professional.
The best time to move a deciduous tree is late autumn or early spring, when the tree is dormant. An evergreen can be moved at any time. Several months to a year in advance, cut about half of the horizontal roots, but not the vertical taproot. Make these cuts in three 60-degree arcs 24 to 30 inches from the trunk (page 106).
Pruning the tree (pages 98-101) in advance lessens the danger of shock by allowing new feeder roots time to form before the tree is moved. To compensate for the lost root capacity, however, prune away about a third of the branches.
Wear work gloves when digging and a back brace to reduce the chance of injury when moving heavy objects such as trees.
Pruning the roots
Using a spade with a well-sharpened blade, sever the roots in a circle 24 to 30 inches wide around the trunk, recutting roots where they were pruned in advance. Push the blade into the ground at about a 30-degree angle toward the trunk (dotted line), so that the rootball will taper.
Uprooting the tree
Excavate an access trench, 18 inches deep, around the rootball. Thrust the blade of a spade—the long-handled variety works best—under the tree to sever the taproot and any other uncut roots (left). With a helper, lift the tree by the rootball and place it on a square of burlap. Removing a tree with low branches may be easier if you work the burlap under the rootball before lifting the tree from the hole.
Bagging the rootball
Draw the burlap up around the ball on all sides, twisting the excess around the trunk. Run twine around the ball in several directions, tilting the tree to get the string under it. When you have bound the rootball into a neat package, wrap the twine around the trunk several times and tie it off.
Storing the tree
If you can replant the tree within a week, set it in a shady spot, cover the rootball with mulch, and water it. To store a tree for longer periods, dig a hole about half the rootball depth in a shady area, protected from wind. Tip the rootball into the hole and cover it with a 6-inch layer of mulch (above). Keep the rootball moist.