I have a healthy 14-foot Norway maple that I want to move.
1) what is the survival rate when transplanting a tree this size?
2) what is the best time of year to do this project?
3) what size equipment should I insist on for transplanting this size
4) Would it actually be cheaper to buy a burlapped 14' maple and pay to
have it installed, rather than hiring someone to move this tree?
1) The survival rate is high if you make the right preparations.(ie.
proper hole depth, width, peat moss, topsoil, fertilizer, etc)
2) The best time is in the fall when the tree goes dormant.(you never
want to expose bare roots during its active growing season)
3) If you are going to hire a landscape contractor or even better, an
arborist, they will definately have the equipment to dig up a tree this
size. They also should also know which roots to prune and which ones to
4) I am guessing this tree is 4-5 years old. Depending on how long
you've had it in the ground, I would say that the roots are pretty
deeply established. The labor to dig up and transplant this tree will
definately cost more than twice as much as buying a nursery tree and
planting it yourself.
<< 4) I am guessing this tree is 4-5 years old.>>
The trunk diameter at breast height is almost 3 and a half inches.
The tree was here when we bought the property 5 years ago. I don't
remember how tall it was then, but I'd guess maybe 8 feet. So I'm
guessing the tree is now about 10 years old?
<<The labor to dig up and transplant this tree will definately cost
more than twice as much as buying a nursery tree and planting it
None of the nurseries I've been to has maples this large. Last year I
saw a couple of very large burlaped trees at a nursery in the next
town; they were priced in the $400 range (I don't remember what
I was hoping I could hire a tree mover for a couple hundred bucks to
dig up my maple and move it 150 feet to its new location. I haven't
started making the calls yet to find out if I'm dreaming.
The local Lowe's was selling 7-foot silver maples with 3/4" trunks in 3
gallon pails for under ten bucks. I could handle that job myself, but
it would be worth the extra money to me to have the (much) larger tree.
Besides, if I don't move the tree, I'm probably going to have to take
the chainsaw to it. It's in a very unfavorable location.
FYI - the following applies to transplanting you original tree, or getting a
If you prune the new tree properly, an 8 foot maple will be 14 feet tall in
3-4 years (at least in Minnesota maples and ash have). And keep growing
It works like this -
1) From the tree's standpoint, the top of the tree is just there to balance
the roots. So think of a tree as a bunch of roots trying to make its top
balance out the roots.
2) to get grass to grow, and for security, you don't want any branches below
3) a branch coming out 6 feet up stays at 6 feet up- it does not move up as
the tree grows.
4) roots that do the work are out at the drip line. You have to be sure to
take those roots when you transplant.
So when you buy an 8 foot maple, all those branches you see today will be
gone in a few years, if you do this right. But the roots will remain and
have expanded, balanced by a bigger higher top.
That said - some don'ts-
The biggest mistake in planting a tree is failing to prune the tree when
you plant it. If you don't, they sit for a couple years, trying to get
The second biggest mistake in planting is not mixing soil (to prevent a
barrier in the two soils, between the root ball soil and the soil of the
hole.) Different soils not mixed, especially clays, doom the tree to
smallness for many years.
The third mistake is not recognizing that you are looking at a tree that
is forty-sixty feet across in 15-20 years and thus planting it too close to
So, (skip 1 if transplanting your tree)
1) You pick the kind you like - some (e.g., Norway) keep their leaves until
the snow knocks them off, and raking is real late; what color
leaves -red/gold, yellow, etc; shape; height; etc. And check it against the
spaces you have
2) you find your spot - use it shade the patio, lawn, whatever? - and not
too close to the house or next to another tree.
3) You dig a hole twice as far across as the root ball and half again as
deep (three foot root ball = 4.5 foot deep hole 6 feet across.
Mix the soil you are removing well with some fertilizer and composted
matter (or peat moss) and "soil amendment" (sand if clay soil, black dirt if
sandy soil, etc.) About 3/4 original soil and UP TO 1/4 added stuff - 3:1
for clay soil or real sandy, less for loam.
That compost will warm the soil at the tree roots and speed up the
chemical reactions that make the roots grow - and the top size follows the
faster root growth.
4) You put back some of the loosened soil into the hole ( that "half again"
amount) so that the top of the ball will be just below ground line - yes,
measure the depth carefully.
5) Use a hose and wet the burlap so the soil you are about to expose is wet.
No need to soak it so it weighs a ton.
5) Put the tree in the hole and center it in the hole and PLUMB THE TRUNK.
6) When the tree is centered and plumb - one person holds the tree trunk
upright while the other GENTLY removes the burlap - no need for speed, just
move with diligence so the roots do not dry. Cut the burlap away and discard
Don't worry about the piece of burlap underneath the ball. (I know they
say leave the burlap on, because rookies do more damage than good when they
remove it - but leaving it promotes barriers in many soils)
7) Shovel in some soil in around the ball, a foot or so deep at the ball,
and mix the returned soil near the ball, by hand, in with the soil of the
ball about half and half. Don't disturb the ball soil too much, but do get a
transition zone of mixed ball soil and amended soil.
Gently "firm" the amended and mixed soil near the root ball - not "pack"
or hard, but just firm like you do when planting potted plants and
seedlings, so air and water can get to the roots.
Put in more amended soil around the ball, up another foot or so, and mix
that and the ball soil. Gently, about half and half again
You should have a hole with a tree and a shallow-sloped cone of soil going
out from the tree root ball.
Finish up the amended-soil-cone-and-mix around the tree, up to its crown
(the small ring on the trunk where the roots meet the trunk).
8) Use the hose and fill the void (made by the hole and the amended soil
sloping from the tree) with water. (If you planted the tree over a gopher
hole, no need to stand there all day putting in water- use your judgment
Turn off the hose and wait until the water drains into the soil
completely before proceeding.
Check plumb. Both sides.
9) Fill the hole with amended soil, cutting into the edges of the hole with
the shovel here and there as you go, so the amended soil mixes into the
existing soil some. Ok to walk on the soil some every 3-4 inches worth of
new depth or so, even good for it as long as you don't pack it down hard.
Check plumb. Helper may now let go of the tree.
10) Rake the soil so its fairly flat, and soak the soil, getting beyond the
edges of the hole. (but don't soak the left-over soil :-) ). Use your hand
around the trunk, not the rake.
11) After the water has soaked in, put as much of the rest of the soil back
as possible, sloping the soil out from the trunk in a gentle slope. Walk on
the soil to firm it.
After pruning--- Scatter grass seed on amended soil and cover it with a
thin layer of soil and press the soil with the back of the rake--
if a fall planting, then leave it. Most of it will sprout before spring,
using snow as the source of moisture.
if a spring planting, -see grass seed care.
(Put any excess soil in the garden.)
12) Pruning time - keep the branches cut off about 1/4 of the total top .
If taking a big side branch off at the trunk means more will be lost, then
cut the branch back this year to make that 1/4th to 1/3rd max, and take off
the rest off at the trunk next year.
Priorities - If the tree has a twin leader (two shoots side by side going
up as a trunk), cut one off. If there is no twin leader, then if there are
two big side branches, take just the bigger of those off to the trunk this
If it wasn't that big a branch, then prune the bottommost branches from
the trunk so as to have removed about 1/4 (to 1/3 max if you have big side
branches) of the top growth total in this step.
The object here is to leave enough top to make food for growth, yet take
enough top to cause new top growth to shoot out elsewhere to balance the
(If you have two big branches lower than 8 feet, you may have to take more
than 1/4 next year when you take off the second -but you can't leave a big
low branch, or the tree will split in a storm in 20 years.)
Once the tree is put in, it needs food and water for the rest of its life,
but it needs special care the first few years. The fast growth stresses it
in a healthy way, but stresses it nonetheless.
Water it deep if you get a dry spell or if the soil is dry. Don't
overwater, because not only does wet soil promote fungus and deprive the
hair roots of the air that they to work, city water is usually PH 8+ to stop
lead solder leaching, and that PH water interferes with root nutrient
Year one - The tree will add a couple feet to the top this year, if a
spring plant. It's just first year, so don't be too eager for it to take off
growing. It might only be a foot.
Wrap it before winter with tree tape. Because you are forcing top
growth, the carrying layers that make fast strong growth are thicker and
fleshier and keep more water and thus more prone to sunsplits from
freeze-thaw --- and sunsplits are depressing because they stop growth cold.
Next year - Late spring early summer, take another big low branch off at
the trunk, and/or more bottommost branches off the trunk, again to remove
not much more than 1/4th of the top growth.
Put in a half-dose of tree spikes outside the drip line in spring.
Again, wrap it with tree tape before winter.
Third year spring, it should be about 12 feet high. Now you just take off
branches up to the 8 foot mark, and again not more than 1/4th of the top
Put in the other half dose of tree spikes in spring
Tree tape before winter
Fourth year spring- it should be 14 feet or so high - and by now, there
should be only a little growth left below 8 feet to cut from the trunk, and
maybe some branches that want to come back down. Just cut the down-leaders
from those branches.
Cut off any too-close new growth on the trunk, to space out the new trunk
If the rough bark has not yet completely formed, again with the tree
tape. (Rough bark is not just smooth with some little scabs here and there -
rough bark is like the bark on a mature tree - fissured and tough)
Fifth year spring - it's likely 16-18 feet high, and you just prune in early
summer to remove rubbing branches, odd routes, too-close-together trunk
growth, the ends of side branches that are ahead of the overall shape, etc.
Tree spikes in spring.
If the rough bark has not formed by fall (and not forming by this time
and size is rare because smooth bark means it's still growing like a very
young tree which needs soft bark to stretch around a rapidly expanding
then again more tree tape just before winter.
Wow, thanks for the lengthy response. I'm going to have to read it a
few times to make sure I got it all.
One concern I have is hardpan. Are there any special additional site
preparation steps that need to be taken when dealing with hardpan?
You'll have to define "hardpan"..
1) The roots of a tree go to the nutrients, and the root mat itself holds
water and nutrients
- if the soil is porous, the roots go down as much as out.
-if the soil is heavy, the roots lay near the top and only a few heavy roots
go down (to hold the tree)
-best is somewhere in between, obviously
2) the richest soil is only about a foot and a half thick topsoil sitting on
a fairly dense subsoil.
In that type of soil, the rainwater with nutrients percolates through
the topsoil, and then sits on the subsoil as it then very slowly moves down
to the water table.
Plant roots in that soil sit in a slightly damp "soup" of nutrients, held
there by a subsoil "hardpan", keeping the root hairs intact most of the
In places in the world where topsoil is five to a hundred feet thick, the
growing conditons for most plants are poor - water passes by the roots into
the water table far below. Root hairs dry and then restart and nutrients
move down away from the roots fairly rapidly, resulting in poor growth.
3) Most trees need a foot to two of topsoil of some kind - so, for example,
if you have six inches of clay topsoil and ten feet of clay subsoil, I
myself would personally try to cut down a foot to 18 inches into the base in
a ten-fifteen foot circle and amend the soil with sand and compost to the 18
(but then, I am ornery enough to rent an electric jackhammer with a bull
tip and work out my aggressions on hardpan for a couple hours - just to run
the jackhammer and to beat back mother nature. It is also an excuse to rent
a "Baby backhoe" on treads and play at scraping for half a day - that works
too. Either heavy tool is neat.
A pick is a romantic idea, but you have to have a hot neighbor and be
able to go shirtless, and have the pan soft enough for a few hours of steady
pick work for me to consider working a pick that long :-). I'm planting a
tree, not racing a steam drill.)
Anyway, however the maple has been doing in the other spot, then a maple
will likely do in your new spot.
If it is hardpan and tough soil, you might look into a Predmore Ash or one
of its cousins- I have planted a dozen of those (10 footers) in a huge
asphalt parking lot, in ten foot timber boxes over six foot diameter holes,
and they grew two-three feet a year using the technique I described
They apparently were bred for boulevard and parking lot use. However, they
are bigger than maples - memory says that in good soil, they get 60 plus
So you are a $5 tree $10 dollar hole kind of person. I thought the
thinking on that switched to $10 tree $5 hole recently. I'm confused
and try for $7.50 tree and $7.50 hole way. This is sort of like
painting wounds vs not painting wounds. I don't now but did.
In this case the theory was $5 hole forces the roots to look for
nutrients. My oak forest has $0.00 per hole ;)).
PS I used a post hole digger to bust hard pan. This only once for my
Franklinia now about 40 years old but not doing well even with
S Jersey USA Zone 5 Shade
This article is posted under fair use rules in accordance with
<<You'll have to define "hardpan"..>>
The area where I want to plant trees has strange soil. The top layer
of about maybe 6" consists mostly of the root zone of the grass.
Immediately below that is about 8" of almost impenetrable hardpan. I
can't dig through it - I have to use a sharp-pointed hand tool to pick
my way through it. Below the hardpan is moist (not wet) clay which
rapidly transitions to mostly coarse sand and rocks. I'm not sure I
understand the proper way to "amend" such soil or how to create a
I can't imagine how anything could grow there but it does. Five years
ago there was nothing there but thin grass and weeds. Then I stopped
mowing it, and now there are sassafras, black cherry, black locust, and
maple trees growing there, all wild. One of the black cherries is
over 6' tall. A couple of the sassafras are over 7' tall. One of the
black locusts is over 12' tall. The maples appeared later and most are
less than a foot, but there is one that is about 5' tall, and thriving.
Two years ago I bought a 5' "autumn blaze" maple at the local
mega-mart and planted it in this area. Not having the least idea what
I was doing, I dug a deep (not wide) hole and backfilled it with dead
leaves and other organic matter gathered from the woods, and stomped it
down. I set the tree on top of that and threw in a bag of "garden
soil". When I was done, the tree's root flare was about 8" below the
surrounding surface, so I filled the rest of the hole with crushed
limestone to make it level. This little maple has been growing like a
weed ever since. This spring it's going nuts, putting out new growth
everywhere at an amazing pace. Every couple of days it seems there's
another set of leaves opening up at the tips of the branches. Now
that I'm learning a bit more about what trees need and how they should
be planted, I'm wondering if this little guy is in for a rude awakening
when he discovers he is in a tiny little oasis in the middle of the
sahara dessert. Where will his roots grow? Under the hardpan? Is
this viable? Should I dig him up this fall and re-plant using a more
proper method? And, how do the other trees (the wild ones mentioned
previously) deal with this?
I'm at the point in my life where I find all this gardening stuff
fascinating. There's so much to learn. I've never really paid much
attention to it before.
I had to laugh when you mentioned renting a jackhammer. That very same
thought had just occurred to me last week. About three years ago I
had a guy over here with a Kubota with a backhoe to dig a 10-foot
trench to bury some drainage pipe. He had a tough time breaking
through the hardpan. He had to strap the back end of the machine to a
hickory tree to get enough traction to get the bucket to break through.
In your earlier post you mentioned "sun splits" and that reminded me of
something. I think that happened about 2 years ago to the maple I am
considering moving. There was a vertical split, about 7 inches long,
along the main trunk, about 2 feet from the ground. I can't remember
what time of year I first noticed it. Being concerned about insect
infestation, and being largely ignorant about such matters, I sprayed
the split with an insecticide containing permethrin. The following
year, the two lower branches on that side of the tree died.
Coincidence? Or direct result of my spraying? At any rate, the split
has now healed over, and the tree appears quite vigorous this year,
with a lush set of leaves. Inspired by your earlier post, I went out
this afternoon and did a little pruning. Just removed some small limbs
that were growing at the wrong angle and threatening to choke or get
choked by other more desirable limbs. Still too timid to be doing any
major surgery. I'll have to work up to that.
1) Are you in a "landscaped" development (one of many of the past 5-40
years), where the lay of the land was moved around by bulldozers and
turnapulls, houses built, and then maybe six inches of black dirt dropped on
Just a wild guess, but that is what it sounds like - and the layer of
black dirt and the landscaped clay has formed a barrier (hardpan) on its
2) A transition zone in tree planting is used to prevent hardpan from
forming between the potted soil and the existing soil. It is made by
mixing the two soils together, for six inches to a foot in width or depth,
so a barrier doesn't form at the boundary of the two soils. ( Soil with
compost and the like added usually doesn't set up barriers with the sandy
soils used in pots.)
3) Six inches of soil is about as thin as most trees can use to grow. The
huge conifer forests of the sub arctic are growing on 6-18 inches of soil
sitting on permafrost. It doesn't take much soil for many kinds of trees to
4) Since you want to transplant/replant, that hole will need to be at
least pot depth or tree-spade (the big transplant shovel thing) depth for a
Given your description of the hole being dug, they might have a hell of a
time punching through your hardpan with a tree spade.
All that said - You always have this trade-off between optimum and enough.
Here, with six inches of topsoil, the roots will fan out in that topsoil and
lay near the top IF the topsoil is ok- but my sense is it will limit it at
some point, especially if it gets dry and a big tree wants that 200 gallons
a day the big ones supposedly use. So how to mitigate that?
Since amending soil is just changing the soil texture and mix so the
roots can get sufficient air, water, and nutrients at the right PH,
(e.g., no organic matter - add compost. Heavy clay - add sand/peat.
Sandy -add clay/peat. Acid - add lime. Alkaline - add acid. etc.)
and given your soil description, and especially if the hardpan was
caused by the developer, I would lean toward just punching fencepost-sized
holes in the artificial hardpan (think power fencepost auger) about every 3
feet or so in a 20- 30 foot diameter circle around the new tree spot (that
diameter is roughly the edge of a bigger tree's root line), fill them back
up, and let nature take its course in the tree breaking up the hardpan.
If there is nutrient slowly going through the hardpan at those holes, so
will the roots, and the tree will make its own depth.
The thin weeds and the adding of limestone and leaves and then growth is
interesting. A soil test for PH is in order.
Most "perennial" plantings do shoot up the second year - and it is too soon
to know if it will be potbound by the hole.
The tree is using what it took in last year and stored in the roots to
make the new shoots- probably before the limestone got to change the soil
below it. That limestone is normally bad for trees - a ph test really is in
Wild maple have the same growing needs and habits as the ones you buy at the
store, unless the bought one is pushing the zone or a fussy variety.
Trade-off between damage done to roots transplanting, and poor growth from
leaving it. You can't tell yet if it will do ok in the next few years...
And, how do the other trees (the wild ones mentioned
They take off from seed, needing little to get going -- and if they can't
make it when they are young seedlings/saplings, they are smothered and die
and another species gets the spot. Usually, only if you pay for the tree
with money or time do you notice the process.
Given what we spray on trees to kill scale and feed in the roots as
systemics, it was probably insects and the split more than permethrin.
Or direct result of my spraying? At any rate, the split
<<That limestone is normally bad for trees - a ph test really is in
I had this nagging feeling I had maybe done something unwise again, and
now you've confirmed it. A week ago, I removed all the limestone
(because it was getting full of dirt and twigs and dead grass clippings
etc, and because I had read somewhere that the "mulch" shouldn't be
right up against the tree trunk) and put a new batch in, with a barrier
(cut-up 2-liter bottle) to keep it from pressing against the trunk.
Then I dumped in 5 gallons of water. As I watched the water rinse all
the limestone dust down the hole I had this sinking feeling that maybe
that limestone dust wasn't good for the tree. I tried to console
myself by rationalizing that lime is good for lawns so it must be good
for trees too; but I didn't find my own argument convincing.
Is there a simple way to do a pH test at home, say by using a pool test
kit? And, if I've ruined the pH, can I slowly correct it by watering
with slightly acidic water, and what acid should I use? (maybe
<< Are you in a "landscaped" development (one of many of the past 5-40
years), where the lay of the land was moved around by bulldozers and
turnapulls, houses built, and then maybe six inches of black dirt
Actually no, I'm out in the country, on 10 acres in former farmland.
The area with the soil I described earlier is out front by the road,
and may have been bulldozed as you describe, although from the looks of
it, it seems to match the contour of the undisturbed areas all around
Folks who have lived in this area longer than I have tell me that there
used to be a stand of large mature trees lining the road in this area,
but they destroyed them all when they put in the power poles.
Sickening. So maybe the area was bulldozed and just happens to match
the surrounding areas because they pushed the dirt back into place
after they were done.
The strange thing is, there's hardpan in various degrees all over the
place, even in areas well away from the road and house. I read the
other day where excessive tilling can destroy the "soil structure" and
then when the land is no longer tilled, hardpan can form. I wonder if
maybe this is what happened here. The land hasn't been farmed for
maybe 20 years or so.
You describe a situation that will give most maples, including
Acer X freemanii 'Autumn Blaze', a very hard time. Your maple
is fast growing, but I think it will consider itself in a pot and
the roots are unlikely to penetrate.
I didn't respond before, but my opinion is it will be much more
practical, not to mention cheaper, to simply plant a new tree
rather than try to move the existing one.
About your tree: A. X freemanii is a garden cross between
A. rubrum (red maple) and A. saccharinum (silver maple). It
sometimes occurs naturally, of personal interest it was found
growing wild in Hancock ME, where I've got a lot of family. :)
There are several cultivars but 'Autumn Blaze' is the most
popular, being widely available in the US and Europe. It is
notable for being vigorous -- as you see -- trouble free,
upright, and having great fall colour. It is hardy to US zone 5,
although it may be pushed to zone 4 with varying degrees of
success. 'Autumn Blaze' was bred in 1980 in Ohio.
One piece of bad advice is to plant grass under an unestablished
tree. Rather, the area to the drip line should be kept grass free
for at least 2 years. This prevents moisture competition as well
as the allelopathic qualities of grass may discourage root formation.
Best of luck,
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