Transplant a baby tree 0 comments

Jul 12, 2012 |
I found a baby honeylocust tree growing under our deck a few weeks ago. I love locust trees. They grow very well here in Nebraska and can tolerate our crazy weather and lack of rain. It would not do well, though, to grow under a deck. I decided to transplant the little seedling to a better spot, with lots of sun and good soil. If you’re a little unsure about moving a baby tree, below are some basic steps to follow.

1. Select a good location for the tree. 
For the spot you select, make sure the soil has good drainage and the area gets lots of sunlight. Don’t forget to consider the size of the tree at maturity. A 12" tree next to the house is great, but can become a major problem 10 years down the road.
2. Prepare the planting hole.
Using a spade or shovel, dig a 12" wide and roughly 12" deep hole and set the soil aside. You’re going to use the same soil you just took out of the hole to fill the hole back in.

3. Dig up and transplant. 
Begin to slowly and carefully dig in a 12" circle around the tree. Work around and around, going deeper with each pass. You should be able to feel any roots, gaps, obstacles, etc. with your shovel. If you fear that you are cutting roots as you’re digging, move your spade out a few inches. Once you get deep enough, carefully begin to pry out the dirt ball/root mass. I gently rock it back and forth, to force any roots to break free and then finally pop it out. Ideally the dirt ball/root mass will come out in one big clump {and sometimes it won’t. See note below.*} Quickly carry the little seedling to the planting hole using some form of transport: a wheelbarrow, bucket, etc. Sometimes I just carry it on my shovel. Once your tree is at the planting site, the next step is to assess the depth of the hole versus the depth of the root ball. What you’re trying to do is get the tree planted at the same depth as it was before. If the hole is too deep, add some dirt back in. Carefully drop the tree into the hole, making sure it is in the right position and begin to back fill with the soil you set aside.
4. Water thoroughly.
When the hole is about half full, water to settle the soil and remove air gaps. Continue adding soil until the hole is filled. Build a little moat/basin around the tree to catch the water. Fill the basin with water several times allowing it to soak into the soil each time. Place a layer of mulch around the tree 1-2" deep. Keep your seedling watered — I recommend a good deep 1" soaking every 5-7 days. I always put up chicken wire or some other kind of barrier for protection against mowers, feet and animals.

* The trick to a successful transplant is to not let the roots dry out. If you’ve lost a lot of soil around the roots, not to worry. Get the tree to the planting hole as quickly as possible. Hold the tree where you think it needs to go and begin putting the soil in and around the roots, trying to make sure there are no air gaps, watering as you go.

{Although locust trees are easy to transplant at this young age, some trees are not. Oaks, for example, can put out a very large tap root in the first year of their life. And some trees, however easily they seem to transplant, can never recover from the shock.}

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