Can I Really Take My Trees With Me When I Move?

A tree is much more than just another part of your backyard landscape – it's a labor of love, a life you've cultivated over the years from a tiny sapling into a mature timber. Given all the money and effort that goes into helping a tree establish its roots and grow, it's no surprise that many people are reluctant to leave trees behind when they move – especially if the tree was planted by or in memory of a loved one.

While it might seem like a tree is a permanent part of a property, as firmly rooted as the foundation itself, modern tree moving companies actually make it possible to take a tree with you when you move. This process isn't just limited to small seedlings either; with the right equipment, contractors trained in plant relocation services can help you move a blossoming tree from the front yard to the back, or relocate a massive oak from your old house to your new one. Using a hydraulic jack and careful planning, contractors were able to move a 65-foot tall oak at the University of Tampa in 2012. Truck-mounted tree spades help to move slightly smaller trees than this, even those that are dozens of feet tall, with relative ease.

If you're considering moving a tree, the first decision you'll have to make is whether or not you need a contractor. For trees up to 3 feet tall, or those with a trunk measuring less than an inch in diameter, you don't need to maintain a solid root ball when you relocate. In this type of instance, you can likely tackle the project yourself; replanting the tree the same way you would any other plant.

But what about larger trees? If your tree is three years old or older, or has a trunk larger than one inch in diameter, you're unlikely to have much success replanting the tree on your own. While it may seem like a relatively simple project, keep in mind that you need to keep the root ball completely intact when moving a tree larger than 3 feet in height. Root balls can be surprisingly large, with every 1 inch of trunk diameter requiring 10 to 12 inches of root ball diameter. If you move a tree with a 3-inch trunk, you'll need to properly relocate a 3-foot root ball – no small task for the average homeowner.

If your tree is very large, you can improve your odds for success by coordinating the project with a skilled contractor well in advance of your planned move. As much as 60 to 70 percent of the roots on a larger tree can extend beyond the drip-line of a tree, which can significantly complicate a move. Planning the job ahead of time allows the contractor to carefully pre-prune the roots in a way that shrinks their size without harming the tree, and also encourages the roots to regrow once the move is complete.

Don't forget that the move doesn't end once the tree is replanted. When you choose a new spot for your tree, work to replicate the soil conditions that the tree is used to in order to help the tree thrive. Skip pruning and fertilizing for a few years so that the tree can establish itself in its new home, and don't expect any blossoms or new growth for a few years as the tree adjusts to its new surroundings.