Transplanting a tree

“How to transplant a tree? »

The question has been asked of me several times lately, especially with personal support.

It therefore seems interesting to elaborate on this here.

But before I tackle the technical aspect of a transplant, I’d like to share with you some thoughts that this question raises…

The trees are not ours!

I say it with force: the trees are not ours…

Like us, they are tenants of this earth… And they play an essential role in life (not like us…).

An ecosystem has already gained a foothold at the level of a tree, even if it is only one or two years old, both in the branches and in the ground.

Moving a tree thus amounts to disrupting or even completely destroying the many forms of life, visible or invisible, that have established themselves…

And uprooting necessarily puts significant stress on a tree.

Transplanting a Tree - Is It Necessary?
This peach tree grew spontaneously in my vegetable garden… It has found a spot that suits it, so I’m not going to transplant it.

In addition, in most cases a tree from a young scion (or even better from direct seeding) will have much better health (and more productive if it is a fruit tree) and live longer, longer than a transplanted tree.

My conclusion is simple: if you move, let the trees bloom where they are.

And plant new ones on your new land…

In doing so, you are doing Life on Earth a service (I remind you that trees, by capturing CO², play a major role in limiting global warming, even if we cannot be satisfied with that… we should already start with polluting less) and you help to preserve biodiversity (leave it), and even (by new planting) to promote biodiversity!

Well, it can happen that for some reason a tree becomes really troublesome, even becomes dangerous in the future… or that the owner you sell your house to plans to destroy it (that’s for you to to exonerate Prudence).

Transplanting a tree will then generally be better than cutting it down, at least for trees that are still young (I am absolutely against transplanting trees older than 5 or 6 years…).

So, here are the different steps to transplanting a tree.

When to transplant a tree?

Transplanting should absolutely be done during vegetative rest, ie between November and mid-February.

At this time, the stress for the tree is less and, above all, it has time to take root again before the summer (the sap sinks to the root system during vegetative rest).

Outside this period, recovery will be all the more difficult.

However, this is still possible at the beginning of spring… but the recovery is far from guaranteed (in any case you will have to water very often, and hope that there is no heat wave).

In any case, never transplant a tree in the middle of summer!

If you’re considering transplanting a tree, your goal should be to minimize stress for it.

In addition to working during vegetative rest, proceed as follows:

Preparing the planting hole

Since the tree should be transplanted as soon as possible, as far as possible, I recommend preparing the planting hole in advance.

In order not to hinder the development of new roots, on which recovery depends, the hole should be about double the size dug for uprooting (well, if you make your hole earlier, as I recommend, plan ahead and if necessary, enlarge the hole just before replanting).

Lay out the soil from the surface on one side and the soil from the depths on the other (so you can replace these different layers identically when planting).

While mixing, don’t hesitate to add a generous scoop (or several for a large hole) of mature compost to the surface soil.

Pruning before transplanting a tree?

Pruning, by reducing the volume of vegetation to be fed, will aid in recovery.

Before transplanting a tree, it is therefore generally recommended to shorten the side branches (avoid touching the main branches), depending on the species:

  • decorative deciduous shrubs: all branches approx. 2/3 . shorten
  • stone fruit trees (peach, plum, apricot, olive): shorten the side branches to about 5-10 cm long (don’t touch the carpenters, ie the main branches starting from the trunk). The cherry tree does not support pruning very well, in my opinion it is better not to prune… but recovery will be all the more difficult (a transplant should therefore be avoided)
  • pome fruit trees (apple trees, pear trees): shorten the side branches very slightly, by 5 to 10 cm

Pruning should be done above a bud pointing outward from the antler.

Some trees should not be pruned: oak, beech, birch, chestnut… but in my opinion they should not be transplanted either!


Keep in mind that a tree’s root system extends more or less directly above its branches.

Plumb bob from the antler of a tree
The root system develops directly above the branches. The ditch must respect this distance…

Therefore, in order to get to the entire root system of the tree without damaging it, you have to dig beyond the projection of the antlers at ground level.

You already understand that for a tree that is already well developed, a mini excavator will be essential to excavate the tree…

In practice, you start by digging a trench around the tree, directly above the antlers (with a shovel for a sapling, or a mini shovel for an already old tree), with a depth equal to 10 times the width of the trunk (so for example for a log with a diameter of 5 cm, the depth of the trench will be about 50 cm).

Then try to tip the tree over by pushing and pulling on it…if you can’t, dig deeper…

Then lift the tree with a shovel or mini excavator (if working manually it is better to have at least 2; one lifts from below and the other pulls up to keep as much soil as possible – a nice clod – round the root system…).

Mark the orientation of the tree (e.g. by applying a strip to the south-facing part) so that it can be replanted in the same way.

Wrap the root ball in plastic wrap, or place it in a large pot to keep the soil from sinking.

the plantation

The ideal is to replant the tree immediately, or at least within a day of uprooting (if this is not possible, place the tree in the shade, making sure the root ball remains around the roots… and wait not too long! ).

Place the tree (respecting its original orientation) in the hole previously dug, making sure to bury it at the same depth as before uprooting: the collar (which corresponds to the junction between the root system and the base of the trunk), marked with a difference in color, should be just above ground level, neither too high nor too low (for a grafted tree, the grafting point, marked by a bulge clearly visible at the base of the trunk, will be several inches above ground level) .

To do this, you have to play with the depth of the hole, either by adding a little bit of soil to the bottom (collar or grafting point is buried, or just by digging a little more (collar or grafting point too high).

For example, to identify yourself, place a tool handle over the hole. The collar should be at the same level…

Once your tree is firmly in place, fill the hole with the soil evacuated during the digging, respecting the successive layers as best you can (the soil going to the bottom and the surface soil, possibly enriched with compost, is replaced on the surface).

Grab around the torso (e.g. with your feet, pressing down forcefully). This will make a handy little basin for watering.

Water abundantly immediately after planting, also during the rainy season (so that the soil can fill in the cavities between the roots).

Maintenance after transplant

Mulch, but leave the trunk free (to prevent the collar from rotting).

If it doesn’t rain, water at least once a week for 1 or 2 months.

Are you planning to transplant a tree, or have you already (successfully) done so?

Do you have any additional recommendations to share?

Your keyboards!