How Do You Transplant A Tree?

By Tree Expert Codey Stout
Updated On

Are you wondering how to transplant a tree on your property?

You’ve come to the right place!

In this guide, you’ll learn:

  • What you need to know about transplanting trees
  • The different kinds of transplanting techniques
  • What to look for in a tree service professional

And much more!

How Do You Transplant A Tree?

So, if you’re looking for answers on tree transplanting keep reading our detailed guide below to get answers to all of your questions!

What Is Tree Transplanting?

Trees can be an amazing asset when it comes to beautifying your property and adding to your home’s value. That said, they can be difficult to maintain, and sometimes they need to be moved to prevent property damage, tree damage, and myriad other issues.

Perhaps you’re interested in bringing in some new trees to your yard, or you’re looking to rearrange your landscaping in the wake of a home remodel. This issue is more common than you might suspect and luckily there are many things you can do to successfully transplant trees on your property.

It’s very common for trees to get planted either too close to something (like a foundation of your home, a sewer line, a sidewalk) and cause problems over time.

It’s also fairly common that you buy an older home and have your own landscaping visions to realize as you make the place your own. 

But, whether you’re transplanting a new tree to a site you’ve prepped, or you’re moving an existing tree to a new location on your property, many of the same techniques and philosophies will be applicable.

However, there is one very important point that needs to be made here and it doesn’t matter what size tree you’re planting, be it from a small, one-gallon pot, or a 60’ Japanese maple moved in with a forklift. 

You need to make absolutely sure, that not only is the new site prepped with plenty of water and nutrients (a replanting fertilizer and compost) but that there are no pockets of air once it has been settled. 

If there are air pockets in the area, rot can easily take form and kill your tree very quickly — and with it, all the efforts you’ve put forth into moving the tree.

Here’s a great video on two different methods of transplanting.

What Are The Different Methods Of Transplanting?

Whether you’re bringing in new trees to your property wrapped in burlap, or moving them from a different location on your property, transplanted trees are always going to face some sort of transplant shock.

In order to make this process as smooth as possible, do your best to at least match (or even improve) the soil type surrounding the root system of the tree. It’s also important to be conscious of the time of year you’re pursuing the move. 

Springtime and early summer and fall are the best times to make this move (avoid the peak of summer and the dead of winter when the tree is most susceptible to trouble).

Also, removing the tree in the morning to midday is ideal so it will be in the ground by nighttime when plants turn their energy “downward” and focus on growing their roots.

That said, let’s take a look at the three most common types of tree transplants.

Potted Trees

Potted trees are some of the easiest trees to transplant because they’re generally smaller in size (4′ to 10′ in height) and they come wrapped in burlap which makes them easier to maneuver.

The best way to transplant a potted tree is to ensure that you’ve dug an appropriately sized hole and prepared it to receive the tree’s root ball.

Once you’ve got the hole dug and right-sized, decide where you’d like the best/fullest part of the tree to face.

Then, prepare the hole you dug for the transplantation by spraying it down with water.

It’s best to mimic the shape of the pot, but not so tight as to have to wrestle with the process as this would disrupt the root ball.

The goal is to have as few air pockets as possible, as these can lead to root rot and the death of the tree. If the pot is disposable, use pruning shears or a heavy box cutter to cut three vertical relief cuts down the side of the pot. This will easily release the tree for planting.

How To Transplant A Potted Tree

If you’d like to keep the pot, or it’s too heavy to cut, then tip the tree over and gently roll it on the ground while tapping on the body of the pot. This will help release the tree from the pot.

Work your new tree into the damp hole and make sure that it’s not only facing in the best direction but that it’s as straight as possible.

Planting is a tenuous time for a new tree. It’s best to support it with soft, tree-ties staked to the ground outside of the radius of the hole, for all-around support.

Water it liberally for the next few days and cover it with mulch or bark to prevent the evaporation of water. It’s not unusual to see some of the leaves turn brown as the tree adjusts to its new home. This is a sign of shock, but it should quickly recover.

Continue to keep an eye on your new tree and water twice a week, or as needed for the next month. Remember to overestimate the future size of the tree, and how that might (positively, or negatively) affect your yard and vision for the future of your property.

YouTube video


The rootball of a tree is sometimes referred to as the root “crown.” However, when wrapped in burlap for either transportation or transplantation, it tends to take the shape of a ball.

You can buy larger trees already wrapped in a piece of burlap, or you may transplant one of your own trees using this method.

If bare roots are showing from the base of the tree’s roots trim them with loopers, as you don’t want roots to circle back on themselves when set in their new home.

How to Transplant A Tree's Rootball

Remember to cover the base of the tree in a layer of mulch to retain water and to keep the new roots from being starved of nutrients by lack of water uptake.

Here’s an example of a couple managing a medium-sized rootball transplant.

Machine Transplanting

Replanting a large, established tree is an endeavor best served – or at least directed by – a tree specialist or certified arborist. To achieve this, at the very least, a forklift will be needed and probably some other heavy pieces of machinery as well.

It’s a general rule of thumb that for every inch of diameter of the tree trunk, you would measure a foot across on the ground and this would be the circle of topsoil to cut for your soil, or rootball that will then be wrapped in burlap — to be moved into its new home. 

Depending on your method, as recommended by your tree service specialist, the root systems may either be trimmed or blown clean by compressed air and then carefully set free in the tree’s new location before backfilling with soil.

Never underestimate the difficulty of successfully transplanting a tree. All equipment, hands, and every tool required should be in place in advance of digging up the rootball.

Moving medium-sized to large, mature trees is very difficult and best left to the advice and service of professionals like us. Every tree, transplant site, and property is different.

The expressed goal is to successfully move the tree as quickly and cleanly as possible to reduce the stress to the tree. Once firmly transplanted in its new location, you can enjoy it for many years to come.

How to Transplant A Tree With A Machine

What Do You Need To Know About Tree Transplanting?

No matter the method used, there is always a level of shock associated with transplanting that will impact the tree. So the key to this process is to mitigate as much of that shock as possible.

To achieve this it’s important to prep the new location as much as possible and make the move cleanly and quickly to give the tree the best chance to thrive and realize new growth in its new home. 

Air Pockets & Root System Management

As stated before, the number one problem facing a successful transplant is air pockets. 

These are especially difficult to detect with larger trees set in new holes because of their odd shape and abundance of roots. This is why it’s best you use plenty of water during the transplant— as the soil with turn to mud and better fit to form.

Not only do you need to soak the ground with a hose to ensure the soil is saturated with water, but you also need to match the hole you dig to the size of the root system you’ll be transplanting.

Light root pruning with shears or loppers can simplify things, especially if you’ve had the roots mechanically blown free of soil in preparation for the transplant.

Note: Blowing the soil free from root systems is usually only performed on large trees, so the roots can be arranged by hand, as the tree is being set in the ground, but a forklift, or other machinery.

When you prune the roots before transplanting, you reduce root circling (roots turning back on themselves, rather than growing out, away from the trunk). Though there’s only anecdotal evidence that it actually, encourages root growth.

Eliminating Air Pockets When Transplanting a Tree

Preparing The Soil

Applying a rich mixture of the right compost and fertilizer to your large tree’s new home is also key to reducing the chance of air pockets while at the same time giving your tree all of the nutrients it needs to realize new growth as quickly as possible.

If you’re moving your tree to its new location by using the burlap and twine method mentioned above, now would be the time to remove those.

After your tree is set in its new, well soaked, compost-rich home and has been gently backfilled, cover the area with mulch to retain water above the root ball. 

Another way to support this is by building a small, circular damn around the area dugout. This encourages water to run toward the tree’s trunk and down into the root ball. 

How to Prepare Soil To Accept a Tree Transplant

When Should You Hire A Professional To Transplant Trees?

When your questions or the size of the job is greater than your ability to safely complete the work, it’s time to call in one of our professional tree specialists.

Having a professional consultation is usually a good idea, especially for large, or complicated jobs.

For instance, there are certain things you might not think about when it comes to working underground, such as septic tanks, utility line placement, and root systems that could infringe upon sewer lines.

All of these are things a professional tree company like ours would look for before work even begins to ensure that your project isn’t doomed by expensive and frustrating issues.

Not only that, but a tree specialist will be able to mitigate any risks involved with transplanting a tree, so if you really want to make sure your tree survives the move and you don’t create unnecessary damage, contact one of our professionals.

Meet Your Tree Expert

Codey Stout

Codey Stout is the operations manager for Tree Triage and has years of experience removing trees. His expertise has been featured in publications like Yahoo, The Family Handyman, Homes & Gardens, and many more. The only thing Codey likes doing more than removing intrusive trees, is removing unsightly stumps.
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