Transplanting a Tree

A purchased tree needs to be transplanted -- and transplanting a tree takes careful planning, attention to weather, and substantial watering. Use these guidelines to help you tend your new trees.

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Trees are the foundation of a landscape, offering shade, beauty, structure, and more to yards big and small. But trees also can be expensive, and transplanting a tree incorrectly -- either in the ground or moving it into a bigger container -- can end up killing the tree. Here's background on how to transplant a tree and give yourself and your yard healthy, strong specimens.

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Transplanting Container-Grown Trees

Trees grown in containers have not been dug up from the ground; their roots will be intact. can be transplanted at any time of the year, although in summer it's best to for a cool day. Dig a hole twice the width and the same depth as the container. Remove the tree from its container and loosen the roots if they are tightly packed. Lower the tree into the ground until the top of the root ball is at the ground line. Fill the hole halfway, water, then fill again.

Tip: If you purchase a tree, wrap it in burlap to transport it home to prevent the tree from becoming too dry.

Learn how to care for your new tree in its first year.

Transplanting Balled and Burlapped Trees

Trees sold balled and burlapped have their roots and a ball of soil wrapped in burlap. At the time of sale, they will have been recently removed from a growing field. 

Balled and burlapped trees should be transplanted as soon after purchase as possible, and usually in spring or very early summer. Although the root ball should be moistened, balled and burlapped trees should not sit in water before transplant. Dig a hole about four times wider than the root ball. Cut the top of the burlap off and away; if the burlap is natural, it can be planted with the tree. If not, remove it. Fill the hole halfway, water, then fill completely and water again. 

Transplanting Bare Root Trees

These trees do not have any soil around their roots and are only sold during the winter. Bare root trees should be planted in early spring when the roots are dormant. After you purchase a bare root tree, keep it in a cool, shady spot and soak the roots in water for several hours before transplanting. Remove any damaged roots. Dig the hole so that the roots can be spread out. Mound the center soil and place the tree over the mound, with the roots draping down. Fill the hole halfway and water the tree; then fill the hole completely and water again. Do not compact the soil around the tree, which may reduce its oxygen. 

Tree Transplanting Tips

  • No matter the type of tree you buy, once you move a tree into the ground you stress its root system. The immediate effect makes it more difficult for a tree to push water to its top, so the tree will wilt. Tend the tree carefully, and water as needed.
  • In general, trees do best when transplanted on a cool day versus a dry, hot day. 
  • All trees need adequate water, both immediately after transplanting and deep and thoroughly as the trees adjust to their new surroundings. Never let a newly transplanted tree dry out, and stake and wrap to protect from animal damage if necessary.
  • Do not fertilize any newly transplanted tree; this may cause the tree's roots to stay too compact instead of spreading out.  

See: How to Plant a Tree

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