How much does a transplant weigh?
The 15-inch-wide rootball of a young holly or viburnum might weigh as much as a grown man. The Smithsonian’s transplanted maple weighed an estimated 5,000 pounds.
How important is site accessibility?
Poor access can be a deal breaker, especially if mechanical equipment is needed: A contractor will need room to maneuver a tree spade as well as a clear path from the old location to the new one. Steps, structures, gates and other landscape elements can create serious barriers. Steep slopes present other challenges. If you have terrible site access but deep pockets, you can move a tree with a crane, an option that typically costs several thousand dollars.
What are the considerations for replanting?
A plant that prefers a little shade — a boxwood, rhododendron or hydrangea, for example — should not be placed in a new location that is either too sunny or too dark. Sun-loving plants moved to a shadier site will see flowering diminish. Soil pH can vary within a property, but the more likely soil problems will relate to drainage. Moving a plant to an area that stays wet can spell doom. And make sure there are no buried pipes or electrical lines before you start digging.
In the move, you might need to protect branches and reduce the width of the tree by carefully wrapping the vegetation in burlap.
Dig the new hole before you start excavating the plant. Match the hole’s depth to that of the rootball: The plant must not sit too low in its site, and once you drop it in, you won’t want to lift it out again.
What tools and other equipment will I need?
If you are hand-digging, you will need as a minimum a strong spade and a mattock for prying stones and slicing roots. Probably no one hand-digs more trees in these parts than Tom Moseley, who runs Maryland Gardens Tree and Shrub Farm in Potomac. Moseley uses a short digging spade with a steel reinforced shank, called a full strap nursery spade.
.I would also have handy a digging fork to deal with buried stones and an ax to sever roots. You might also want a long bar for digging and prying, called a spud bar. This is used for breaking the rootball free from the ground and for general maneuvering. You might also need a large dolly called a ball cart, for moving the transplants. Equipment rental centers have carts.
It is important to keep the soil in the rootball intact, to minimize root trauma. You might be able to place a transplant on a tarp and drag it to its new site, but if it is going to get jostled, you should wrapthe ball in burlap. Burlap comes in sheets or in rolls, and is pinned with nails and tied at the top. For extra security, some gardeners secure the burlap with rope circles at the top and bottom of the ball, which are then drum-laced together. After replanting, free any ties and ropes that might interfere with trunk growth and let the burlap rot in place.