Transplanting Trees

Transplanting can have a few different meanings. Regardless of transplanting trees from a purchased container or if moving a tree
already in the ground, this page covers the need to knows.

There is an ongoing debate as to the best time of year to plant certain trees. Overall:

  • In the northern states it is considered best to plant trees in fall. Exception are Pines, Redbuds and Birches which fare better when planted in spring.
  • Farther north in extremely cold winter temperatures, spring and fall are good times to plant trees, summertime is ok.
  • With warmer climates anytime except summer is considered good, especially container grown and balled-and-burlapped.
  • Evergreens planted later than October won't get the roots established well.

Outside of the continued debate, most people don't have any problems with transplanting trees. But there are those few exceptions that can cost dearly down the road if not done so properly.

When planting a garden with trees it is important to:

  • Leave plenty of space for flowers and trees to grow. If not enough space is left they crowd each other out. When plants begin to compete for light and water there will be dying plants.
  • As trees mature they become harder to move.
  • Transplants are more likely survive any drought or competition from weeds within their first year.

Location - where trees can grow to maximum height and width:

  • Consider any power lines, windows, surrounding properties, etc.
  • Westerly winds are tough on trees but also act as a wind block. These winds can dry trees out if in an unprotected area.  Wind blocks can be necessary for a butterfly garden to help butterflies from being blown around.
  • Plants and trees on North sides of buildings won't get as much sun and soil will hold more moisture due to less sun exposure.
  • Plants and trees on South sides of buildings will get more warmth and the soil will dry more quickly due to sun exposure.
  • When considering types of soil, soil pH and drainage, also consider types of trees and plants. For example, evergreen trees in colder months can dry quickly if located in a sunny spot where soil dries quickly.
  • One very important tip on how to plant a tree...

Don't transplant tree too deep.
This is one of the biggest reasons a tree dies.

If tree trunk looks completely straight all the way down into the ground (like a telephone pole) this is not proper tree planting. Make sure the tree flares at the bottom above the soil line. This flare, or bulge, at the base is where the root ball begins to develop.

When flare is above soil the tree roots are closer to surface.
Roots will get needed air, water and nutrients.

If tree is planted too deeply roots are too far into the ground.  They may start circling the base in attempt to grow toward the surface.  These girdling roots begin to struggle and can strangle the tree many years later.  Also make the hole wide enough where roots get a healthy start.  More about this on buying trees page.

After transplanting trees care is important.

  • Watering - Decrease in early fall, then increase late fall to help ensure survival against wind.
  • Mulching - To retain moisture and soil temperature
    Fertilization - Provide nutrients to avoid aggressive transplant shock.
  • Pruning trees- If any damage occurred during planting, otherwise probably not necessary. Weakened areas of tree or plant can rob water and nutrients from healthy areas of plant.
  • Staking trees- If not necessary, this is best. Young trees not needing outside support will grow stronger trunks. If staking is necessary, remove as soon as possible allowing tree to gain it's strength. The maximum amount of time would be one year.

    The longer a stake stays on the weaker the tree may become. Exceptions would be if tree or plant is in a high wind area, such as types of Oak trees, which may not grow strait.

    Use soft materials around the tree avoiding scars, place stakes far enough away from tree to allow it to move freely. If ties have fallen or become misaligned this can do damage - check regularly.


When transplanting flowers (In seed flats):

  • The growing seedlings may be to fragile if pulled by roots. Use a kitchen fork to dislodge and loosen dirt and pull by leaves of all seedlings, best to pick the strongest.
  • Get rid of those that don't have a root system attached or are too small.
  • Dig a hole and sprinkle dry soil mix.
  • Do so a little deeper than the flat seed was germinated in, giving more support.
  • A pale color seedling needs nutrients.

Transplant Shock - Dropping leaves, wilting. Provide temporary shelter from sun and wind. Water only if soil ball is dry. Don't over water, even in damp soil.

Don't mistake transplant shock for insect damage.

Other troubleshooting when transplanting trees and flowers:

  • Lack of water - limp, yellowing leaves, browning tips, dying plants.
  • Over watering plants - Symptoms can be the same as lacking water. Also look to see if soil looks green on top. It may be algae.
  • Freeze Damage - Kills plants to ground or blackens exposed areas.
  • Lacking sunlight - Long, spindly stems, pale colors.
  • Too much sun - Likely to happen to semi-shade and shade plants. Will get pale all over, then show thin, papery patches or dark, irregular burns.
  • Fertilizer burn - Can scorch leaves, too much can kill plants.
  • Fertilizer deficiency - Stunted growth and leaf discoloration. Discoloration can take many forms.
  • Salts - Regardless of, if in soil, or through breezes, plants can have stunted growth or be brown.

Related Articles:

Starting a Garden
More about Northwesterly winds and how they apply to your Butterfly Garden.
Soil Testing Methods
Soil pH matters. Understand this and how soil types effects plant growth.
Butterfly House
Northwesterly winds count here to.
Buying Trees
The difference in packaging when buying a tree at the nursery. Knowing these also aids with successfully transplanting trees to.

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