Leaf drop from deciduous trees during autumn is healthy, and natural, a sign that the trees around us, particularly those on our properties, are in good working order, their systems functioning as they should. However, if you have noticed any of your trees looking not quite themselves throughout other times of the year, or in an abnormal fashion, it may be a good idea to consider transplanting your tree to a different location on your property.
Best Times to Transplant Trees
Each year, we all look forward in our hearts to the happy weeks when the deciduous trees around us display their resplendent autumn colors, gracing us with their majestic palettes of oranges, yellows, and reds. This display, while awe-inspiring, is short lived, for as we all know, this golden hour does not last forever, and after about a month or so, we are reminded again of why we call it Fall.
When we find that our trees may be in need of transplanting, the first step before taking action is to confirm the most likely cause for abnormal leaf fall from your tree. To do this, there are a few factors that ought to be considered.
Leaf Drop Location
Take a look at where on your tree leaves are falling. If they are falling from throughout the tree, this is natural, as many trees grow more leaves in the spring than can be realistically supported by the tree throughout the entirety of summer, while others have matured fully and are simply following the natural leaf life-cycle. If leaves are falling from specific locations though, or are dropping much more quickly than normal, are overall abnormally spotted or have holes throughout them, you ought to contact your local arborist who can help you identify the cause behind these observations.
Weather Related Stress
Some trees, like the Tulip Poplar and Sycamore, do not tolerate dry summers as well as other varieties of trees, and are more prone to drop their leaves earlier or in abnormal groupings if it has been a particularly hot, dry year. This is within the tolerance of most trees, though if you believe the specific position of the tree on your property may be restricting its roots’ access to groundwater, it may be time to consider transplanting your tree elsewhere.
These considerations aside, there may be a desire to move one or more trees on your property to other locations due to their increasing proximity to your home that can occur over time as they grow, and create concerns about root structures damaging below-ground elements of your home, among others.
The best time, overall, to transplant a tree once it has been determined to be the best course of action is in the late fall, as this time of year is least likely to cause transplant shock. This can occur due to a loss of substantial portions of trees’ root systems. Transplant shock is like when a tree is moved to a new environment that is inherently inhospitable to the trees’ particular needs, or during growing season when tree roots are tasked with the job of absorbing moisture and nutrients from the soil. Transplanting in the fall also gives the roots opportunity to begin growing healthily when spring rolls around, and minimizes the likelihood that harmful insects will be attracted to your trees.
How to Transplant a Tree
There are essentially three steps to transplanting a tree and performing them properly dramatically decreases the chance that your tree may experience transplant shock. The three steps to transplanting a tree must include:
Digging a New Hole
You will need a new hole for your tree to settle into once it’s been uprooted from its original location. Digging wider is more important than digging deeply when it comes to this step in the process. It is essential that once you have dug up the soil from this new location that you do not blend it with any kind of fertilizer or other chemicals, as doing so can harmfully alter the composition of the soil or amend the way that water circulates below ground at the site.
Digging Up Your Tree
Prior to digging up your tree, you will need to determine the approximate location and size of your tree’s root ball, that is, the center of your tree’s root structure which is most dense and serves as the central hub of water and nutrient dispersion for your tree, combined with the dirt that surrounds these central roots themselves. To do this, you will need to measure your tree’s diameter using a caliper, which can be found at most hardware stores and many online retailers. After you have measured your tree’s diameter, you can know the approximate size of its root ball by multiplying the diameter of your tree by 12 if it is naturally growing, and nine if it was planted from a nursery tree (e.g. trees with brown fabric bags on their root balls).
You will also want to be sure prior to digging up your tree that its roots have been pruned. A good rule of thumb for mature trees is 3-5 times away from the diameter of your tree. It is advisable to consult an arborist if you are pruning the roots of a mature tree before transplantation to best ensure the future health and safety by protecting its essential root structure. Be sure when digging up your tree and pruning its roots (both actions are part of the same process), you use a clean and sharp shovel, as severing determined portions of your tree’s root structure is least harmful when clean cuts are made.
Replanting Your Tree
- To begin this process, water the soil in the new hole where your tree will reside one day prior to replanting.
- Dig around the circumference of your tree.
- Then dig beneath your tree approximately one foot per inch of your tree’s diameter.
- Once your tree is free from the ground, gently slide a piece of natural burlap beneath it in the whole, and, with another person’s help, use the burlap to lift your tree from the ground. Do not pick your tree up by its trunk as this is extremely detrimental to your tree and must be avoided at all costs.
- Secure the burlap with some twine, being careful to keep as much of the dirt together with the root ball as possible.
- Carry your tree to its new location. If your tree is very heavy, place it on a tarp, and drag it to its new location.
- Gently place your tree into the new hole.
- Remove the twine, and carefully slide the burlap out from beneath the tree.
- Place dirt around the tree back in the order that it was removed so as to maintain the natural nutrient structure of the soil.
- For two weeks following your tree’s transplantation, you will need to deeply water it to ensure it is getting enough moisture for new roots to grow.
In our next blog, we’ll talk about the signs of transplant shock and treatments that can help your transplanted tree thrive.