How big is too big for a tree to be transplanted?

By Nancy Penrose

There are many reasons you would want to transplant a tree. One reason could be that a tree is not in an ideal location for it to thrive. Another is the yard is being redesigned and a tree is in the way, but it is still part of the final plan. There are a myriad of reasons why a tree needs to be relocated on a property. Below are some guidelines that will determine whether a tree is a good candidate for transplanting.

A question that gets asked of us a lot is, “Can a tree be too big to successfully move?” There is not a clear-cut answer of yes or no. There are many circumstances that will make or break a transplant. Consulting a professional tree transplanting service is always advised. When we consult on a potential project we try and be upfront about the chances of success and the post-transplant conditions that should be maintained for the tree to thrive in its new location.

There are some basic factors that govern how to successfully transplant a tree.

  • The age of the tree
  • The size of the tree
  • Access to where the tree is currently and where it is being relocated to

Another key point to consider in any transplant are the roots. For any transplant to be successful requires getting a large enough root ball to sustain the tree after the relocation. Cutting too many of the roots will cause transplant shock that will be too devastating for it to recover from. There is a formula to make sure you are getting an adequate root ball. First, measure the diameter of the trunk 12 inches above soil level. For every diameter inch, the root ball will have to be 12 inches wide. For instance, if the diameter of the trunk is 2 inches the root ball that will need to be dug is 24 inches wide. Using this formula will give the tree enough roots to sustain itself until it can establish a new root system.

A tree that has a 2-inch diameter or less can usually be safely moved by a homeowner within their own yard. 2 to 4 inches in diameter becomes exponentially more difficult. Above 4 inches should be handled by professionals.

In close, if you are in doubt about if a tree that you would like moved is too big or not, seeking professional help is always best. Professionals will be able to help you decide not only whether a tree is a good candidate for transplant, but also, help you find the best location for its long-term success.