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How do I transplant a tree?

Val Bourne / 04 October 2018

A reader is moving house but would like to take her favourite acer with her.



I am moving soon and would like to take my favourite Japanese acer with me, it's about four feet high and in good condition. What is the best way of transplanting it?


Moving a tree is always a bit of a gamble and Japanese acers are slow-growing so this tree may have been in the ground for 10 years or more. The best time to tackle any move is when a tree is dormant, between late autumn and early spring. Choose a clement day, preferably after rain so that you can lift a solid root ball of soil. Soak the area thoroughly if the weather has been dry.

Bear in mind that it’s not a one-person job, because a root ball measuring a couple of feet across could weigh as much as 80 pounds so you may prefer to get someone in! Begin by laying down a tarpaulin and, using a spade, begin to dig down well away from the trunk, at least 18 inches (45cm). Go straight down vertically for two feet, if you can, and try not to sever any main roots. Then begin to dig underneath the root ball and then lever it up. Prune back the top growth by a quarter and wrap the roots in a damp piece of towelling or cloth. Keep the root ball damp, but not sodden.

Either containerise it straight away, using John innes 3, or transfer it to your new garden when you move. Again chose a clement day to plant it. Keep your newly moved acer moist but not wet, because new roots form when plants have to search for water. Water carefully in dry weather during the first growing season, between April until August. Gently tip a bucket of water over the roots a couple of times a week. It’s much better than using a hose. Good Luck!

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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.