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Trees/Move mature tree


Mr. Parker. .  
I wish to move a ~20 ft. ponderosa about 10-12 to make room for a garage. I live at 7,500 ft in a high mountain setting. The soil is deep and good(? loamy). Other pinons and ponderosa are doing well near by. I would have a professional arborist supervise the moving, but I just love thet tree (our out door Christmas tree) and need to know how to care for it if it  can be moved. Thanks, Russ

Hi Russ, thanks for the question. It is definitely feasible to move a tree that size. When moving large trees prep work is crucial. To ensure success I would recommend using an arborist or nurseryman that has experience planting and moving large plant material.

There are several methods that one might use to move a large pine, but I’ll just mention two:

1. A method that some wholesale nursery’s employ prior to digging large trees is to undercut the root system at least one year prior to moving the tree. Typically the tree roots are cut four feet from the base of the tree (or more depending on the size of the tree).By severing the roots you are encouraging the tree to start producing fibrous roots closer to the trunk, these fine roots are an essential part of the trees water transport system and should be left intact to ensure success.  After a growing season has passed you can dig around the tree and create a “root ball” containing all the soil and root mass you intend to move.
(A quick word of caution. The structural integrity of this root ball will be dependent on the soil type, if the soil is full of small aggregates and sandy material the root ball will NOT hold together during transport. Also, realize that the weight of all that material will be quite significant and either significant man power or machinery will be required.)

2. Another method that has recently been developed is the use of a device called an “Air-Spade” or pneumatic air tool to assist in transplant.  This method has been successful moving quite large specimens. The “Air-Spade” is a high powered air gun that, when directed at the soil, removes all soil, sand and small stones without doing damage to the roots.  Essentially what you’re doing is bare root transplanting the tree.
After the roots are exposed the roots need to be kept damp while exposed to the air. The primary method used to do this is by covering the root system with wetted burlap.  Once the entire tree is excavated you can move it to its new home.   Of course you want to follow proper planting practices once it reaches it new home and I would also suggest spraying an anti-desiccant (Trade name: Wilt Proof, Trans-Film, Vapor Guard) the first winter that it’s in the ground.  Frozen ground and cold winds will quickly suck the moisture right out of a newly transplanted evergreen with little root system.

The entire procedure isn’t as difficult as one might think since most tree roots are contained in the top 2-3 feet of soil (contrary to popular belief).  Prep work is also key to ensuring success using this method. I would only recommend exposing roots on an overcast day with low wind. The reason being is you want to prevent water loss as much as possible during this procedure. Anti-Desiccant can also be used during the transplant to avoid plant stress and water loss though the foliage.

Although I only mentioned two methods, there are others, including having a company with a tree spade move the tree.  Unfortunately when you’re dealing with large trees there is no simple or “cheap” method.  Also, I included a few links to below that discuss Air-Spades, Tree-Spades and root balls.

I guess the take home point here is to weigh the cost/benefit of moving the tree versus just planting another relatively large tree in whatever area you wish.  Moving a tree can be rather expensive due to the specialized labor and equipment necessary.
Thanks for the question Russ. I’d be happy to answer any other questions about this matter or clarify any points.

Tree Spade Video.

Air-Spade Video.

Root ball Image.  


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James Parker


I can answer questions regarding tree identification, plant pathology (plant diseases), entomology (plant insect problems), soil science, organic horticultural practices, proper pruning techniques, pesticide questions, watering, turf care, fertilizing.


I have 10 years of experience in Forestry and Urban Forestry in Greater New York City working and consulting for government agencies, private residents and large corporations.

International Society of Arboriculture Connecticut Tree Protection Association North Eastern Organic Farmers Association

Bachelors of Science Horticulture Oregon State International Society of Arboriculture Certified Arborist (NE-6660A) Connecticut Arborist License (S-5496) CT Pesticide Supervisors License (S-5496) NY Commercial Applicators License (CO881265) Accredited Organic Land Care Professional (AOLCP)

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