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What to Know if You Want to Transplant Your Tree

Spring is one of the most beautiful times of the year here in Portland, Oregon. Everywhere you look is a different shade of green. Flowers are bursting to life. Trees are beginning to bud. And if you’ve been itching to plant something new, a trip to your local nursery will give you a variety of options. From flowers for your patio to a tree to plant in your yard, you’ll find landscaping possibilities in abundance.

With row after row of trees ready and waiting to buy and plant, spring must be the perfect time to plant a tree, right? And what if you’ve decided to change your landscaping? If you plant a new tree in this corner, is there a right way to dig up what is already there and transplant it over in that corner? It turns out many homeowners are just as perplexed as you are about the proper techniques used to transplant plants and trees and ensure they survive the process.
What to Know if You Want to Transplant Your Tree
Transplant shock is a reality in the landscaping world. As a tree service company here in Portland with years of experience, we’ve dealt with many trees and shrubs that didn’t survive the process. But, there are things you as a homeowner can and should do to ensure every transplant job you take on has the highest probability of being a success.

First, here are a few things you should know about the transplanting process.

Transplanting Methods
Depending on the nursery you visit and the retail location you purchase your trees and plants, you’ll find they come in a number of ways.

Container Grown – a container grown plant has been grown in its pot or container for at least one full growing season, including the winter. Some of the better growers will use a technique “pot in pot” which allows for a field-grown plant to grow in a pot in the field for one full year before it’s dug up and placed in another pot for shipment to the nursery.

Field Dug – many plants are grown on a plant farm. When ready to be shipped for sale, they are dug up with soil or moved bare-root. The success of transplanting depends on how long ago this process occurred, and how long the plant has had to acclimate to its pot.

Balled and Burlapped – trees or shrubs are dug from the field with as large a rootball as possible. The root is wrapped in burlap and tied down to keep it intact. The success depends on how large the tree or shrub is, the size of its root system, and how many roots were cut in the process to dig it from the ground.

Machine Dug – you’ll find many tree service companies use this method. A truck with a large tree spade digs out the tree and moves it, rootball and all, to its new planting location. The success of this method, like others, depends on how successful it is at taking the primary roots. The larger the tree, in general, the more likely it is to experience severe transplant shock.

What is transplant shock?
Almost all new plants and trees will experience some transplant shock; it’s a normal process that comes from moving locations. It is generally caused by damage to the roots that occur during the process.

You’ll know if your tree or plant experiences transplant shock if you see stunting of new growth sometime during the first growing season.

The plant may grow vigorously for a short time, followed by a sudden stop in growth for the rest of the season. You may find buds that break off with little growth in height or width. It can also cause underdevelopment of leaves and stems and often mimics other problems normally associated with disease or insect damage. A tree service can help you diagnose the problem.

Keeping all of this in mind, there are eight useful tips you can use every time you transplant a new plant or tree in your yard.

1. Choose healthy plants
It may seem like an obvious tip, but it’s one that’s often overlooked. Don’t base it on price or convenience. Instead, inspect every plant carefully before you buy. Look for evidence of stunted growth, insects, or disease. If you find severe cuts, nicks, or weak-looking plants, pass and look for one that is less stressed.

2. Transplant at the best time for the plant
Plants do their best when transplanted while dormant. That means transplanting should occur in the early spring or late fall, before buds have broken open, or the last of the leaves have fallen.

3. Plant properly
This is one of the most important steps in the process. A successful transplant depends on how the plant is planted in its new home.

4. Watch how you fertilize your first year
It’s natural to want to give your trees and plants a boost of energy after you plant them. And while it may seem like a good idea to load it up with lots of water and energy-producing fertilizer, that could be the worst thing you can do.

Roots are compromised during the transplanting process and to overstimulate them with growth-enhancing fertilizers may jeopardize the plant during its first year. Instead, support the first year with a mild root-boosting substance such as bonemeal or bloodmeal until the plant is fully settled into its new surrounding.

5. Water vigorously
While you should avoid growth-stimulating fertilizers during the first year, remember that your new plants will thrive with an extra supply of water. Drought of any kind will only further stress the root system of your new plant. Keep the soil evenly moist around the new plant, watering whenever necessary.

6. Provide an extra boost by staking new trees
Many things can impact a new tree in its first few months of life. High winds can affect a tree by moving its root systems. It can easily topple a top-heavy tree. By staking it firmly to the ground using a two-stake method, it ensures stability while the young plant is growing and expanding in its new surroundings. Be sure to take the stakes down in a year or two to prevent weakening of the tree trunk.

7. Keep close watch over your new plants
Every new transplant needs a little TLC during the first few weeks in its new home. The last thing it needs is stress from additional sources, such as disease or pests. Carefully evaluate leaves, branches, and trunks for any sign of danger. If you suspect a problem, a visit from one of our tree service technicians can suggest a course of action that will give your new plants the greatest chance for survival. The sooner you deal with stress, the better chance your plants will have.

8. Patience
Trees, plants, and shrubs were never intended to be transplanted. That’s part of our modern-day culture. Even in the best of circumstances, your new plants will show some signs of stress. This is normal. You can’t expect heavy growth in a short period of time. Allow them time to adjust to their new environment. Give them the space they’ll need to thrive, knowing in a year or two they will fill out your landscaping and become the beautiful addition to your garden space you desire.