There’s more to transplanting than digging a hole.  The tree is entirely dependent upon you to help it survive at least its first season in the new spot.  There is no getting around this responsibility; it’s like having a baby.  

#1 You must water the transplanted tree regularly.  

#2 You must NOT put soil over the top of the root ball.  

If you read no further, you must know those 2 things.  But please, read on…

Don’t transplant a large tree in summer unless you have absolutely no choice.  

Up Front

I want to say this up front, even though this is almost the last step:  do not bury the root ball under additional soil!!!!!  The top of the root ball should be even with the top of the new soil level.  Putting additional soil on top will only suffocate those shocked roots and send the tree into decline.  Roots do not easily grow up and they always need air.  

WATER the tree regularly in its new place.  The tree will not survive unless it has a wet root ball and the soil around it is moist for the WHOLE SEASON of its move.  So you have to commit to water this tree regularly.  Don’t think that rain will always be there.  This tree is entirely dependent upon you to survive in its first season in the new spot.  

Timing: It all depends on the kind of plant or tree you want to move, but usually the best time to transplant is in early spring, just before the tree is starting to expand its leaf-buds into leaves.  It has survived the winter and is starting to awaken its energy and move its circulation of fluids. As long as you make sure it has enough roots in the root ball that you dig out, and as long as you water it sufficiently when it is in its new location, the transplant will have a good chance of success.  

But, some thought needs to go into the whole process.

1. How big is the original plant or tree?  Can you do this or do you need professional help?

2. What are its sunlight, soil quality, size at maturity, and water requirements?

3. Where will the tree or plant go?  Does it meet the sunlight, soil quality, size at maturity, and water requirements?  

4. Beyond that, does the tree “want” to go there?  Yes, you can ASK the tree in your heart or with your intuition whether it wants to be moved to that spot or whether there is a better spot for it.  

Allow for the wisdom of Nature!  

Be honest with yourself.  Are your desires perhaps a little selfish?  

Have you taken all of the needs of the tree into consideration?  It’s a living being; it has its own point of view.  

But, it’s up to you whether it thrives or struggles in its new spot.  Make sure that place works for the tree.    [For more information about how to ask the tree and use your intuition, please go to _______________]  

5. Now for the practical process:  

Assemble tools and resources.  If the tree is small and you are doing this yourself (without professional help), you’ll want

  • various kinds of shovels and picks in case you run into rocks
  • measuring tape, probably a 5-6 foot length.
  • rope
  • burlap or some kind of container to move it from here to the other place
  • sharp knife to cut the burlap or rope
  • a few bags of topsoil and organic leaf compost (NOT mulch) and/or worm castings. You’ll want to amend the soil that the tree goes into so that tiny roots will have an easier time growing out of the root ball. You want to give the tree a better chance of growing quickly in its new spot.
  • some kind of “muscle” or machine to lift the tree out of the hole
  • transport vehicle to move the balled-tree to the new place.  If it’s a small tree, maybe a child’s wagon.  
  • once its’ there, you’ll need access to water—a hose or buckets.  
  • Wooden stakes and ROPE—not plastic.  

6. Ask some more questions before beginning:  

  • How is it oriented in the place where it is now?  You’ll want to mark which side of it “faces” toward the sun.
  • How far from the trunk do its branches go out?  You’ll want to evaluate its “drip line” and evaluate how large the ball around it will have to be in order to capture its most significant roots.
  • What season of the year it is?  If you absolutely can’t transplant in early spring, you’ll have to take extra precautions to account for the stress or heat or dryness or other timing issues.  MAKE SURE THE SOIL IS MOIST but not soggy before digging.  Roots can break or crumble away if soil is too dry or too soggy.  
  • Ask yourself and tree, are you ready for this?  

Both you and the tree may need a few days to get all of the resources together.  

You have to buy or gather things as noted above.  

The tree has to move its inner resources and prepare its inner functionality for the shock.  

See, when transplant is done suddenly, the tree will often “grasp” into the soil with its roots with all of its might.  It doesn’t want to be hurt.  

Put yourself in its place.  If you were physically picked up suddenly, you would be shocked and would want to hold on.  So does it.  But if you were told, “I am going to pick you up.” then you would get ready.  The tree has to get ready.  It has thousands of inner functions which it manages with great intelligence.  So, before transplant, it has to move food out of the root-ends that are going to be cut.  Warn it, and give it a chance to do that.  A few days or so will really help.  

How do you warn it?  Stand by it; you could touch it.  In your heart say, “I plan to transplant you in ____ days.  Please get yourself ready.”   This is the considerate thing to do.  

7. Then, dig the intended location hole FIRST.  

You don’t want the tree to be dug out and drying out while waiting for you to dig the hole where it is going to go.  

8.  You want to make the hole wider and deeper than the root ball will be.  

Sure, you don’t know exactly until the tree is dig out, but take your best guess about depth when first digging.  You’ll be amending the soil of the new hole with new topsoil, leaf compost, and/or worm castings.

9. Now, you are finally ready to dig out the tree.  

Give it a smile and a pat.  Take a second look at the intended size of the root ball.  Quiet yourself or those who are helping.  Rushing at this point doesn’t do any good.  

It’s a little like surgeons beginning an operation.  Do you know that best practices for surgical teams are to pause in the operating room just prior to any action?  The team breathes and checks out their readiness.  They align on their intent “We are doing a resection of the bowel on the right side” so nobody starts on the left side.  

Do the same with your tree and your team.  It’ll pay off in the end.  

Dig carefully.  Allow for changes in plans as you discover large roots in unexpected areas or uncover unknown rocks.  

If this is a large ball or it is more fragile than you thought, wrap it with the burlap and secure with ropes.  

10. Now, this is going to be heavy. Soil and the weight of the tree always weigh more than you think.  Get the muscle ready.  Carefully lift out the ball, placing gently on the transport device.  Transport it immediately to the new hole.  

12. Check the sun direction marker that you put in originally.  You probably want to line up the tree with the same sun direction in the new place.  

11. Measure.  Check the depth of the new hole and adjust accordingly by more digging if necessary, and then by adding more or less amended soil to the bottom.  On the bottom of the new hole, WATER down the amended soil hard because you need to get the amount of soil at the bottom just right … because the depth of the hole has to be just right. The top of the root ball should be even with the top of the land. Remember, do not add soil to the top of the root ball ever!   Added soil will suffocate the roots.  

13. You can place the root ball into the new hole with its wrapping, but then TAKE IT OFF…. Use your sharp knife to just cut way the wrapping from the sides.  You can leave the little bit of wrapping underneath the ball if it is dangerous to the tree to try to remove it.  Because you have good fill-soil, the sides of the root ball will grow into that nicely and eventually the roots on the bottom will break through the little bit of burlap that you may have had to leave.    

14.  Fill the sides in with the amended soil.  DO NOT COVER the top of the root ball.

15. Water immediately.  Water generously.  You may have to add a little more soil to the sides as the water may compact the new soil a bit.  

16. For a tree that’s taller than you are, you will probably have to stake the tree.  3-5 Wooden stakes all around the root ball, but not in it, should work.  Then, use a natural rope, not plastic.  Rope will have a better chance of decomposing if it drops down and you don’t remove it in a year or so.  If plastic drops down and you don’t remove it, it will absolutely kill the tree as the tree grows because the plastic doesn’t decompose.  

If you have to put some kind of animal barrier at the base, again use care and remove it in a year or so because that will kill the tree.  

17.  Give yourself and the tree a smile and pat.  Job well done!  The tree has a high chance of success of growing in its new place, as long as you water it regularly and eventually remove the ties.  

18.  Return and water regularly.  Don’t count on rain.  That tree depends on you!  Put down a drip hose if you can.  Long, slow watering is best: moist but not soggy.  Watch for high temps or drought conditions.  

Please click to go to each of the Top 10 Ways to Hurt Trees

#10 Way to Hurt Trees: Pollution, litter, and dumping.

#9 Way to Hurt Trees:  Remove the leaves from the drip zone.

#8 Way to Hurt Trees: Wrong or inappropriate use of chemicals.

#7 Way to Hurt Trees: Poor transplanting.

#6 Way to Hurt Trees:  Failing to Water even mature trees in heat and drought.

#5 Way to Hurt Trees: Careless Practices and Injury

#4 Way to Hurt Trees: Cutting down nearby trees or disturbing the ecosystem.

#3 Way to Hurt Trees: Construction abuses.

#2 Way to Hurt Trees: Strangulation by ropes, ties, wires, etc.

#1 Way to Hurt Trees: Suffocation by burying roots under mulch, fill, planters, or regrading of land.

Please check our sister website: PartnerWithNature.org.