The Q&A Archives: Replanting Small Tree

Question: I am wanting to dig up a small acorn tree from the woods behind my house and plant it in my front yard. What is the best way to do this, or will it die?

Answer: If it's a volunteer tree, you're likely to find rather deep roots so be prepared to dig as deeply as necessary to remove as much of the root mass as possible. The more roots you dig up, the better chance the oak tree has to survive. It's also helpful to plant the tree where it will get the same exposure to sunshine as it's getting now. If you're going to make a big change, such as if it's in a partly shady area now and you want to plant it in full sun, the little tree will have its best chance of survival if you move it during the late fall or early winter while it is dormant. This way the tree will have a few months to re-establish its root system before it leafs out. So, if you can wait until this fall or winter, I'd recommend doing so to lessen transplant shock. If you must move it now in early summer, expect it to lose some leaves and look a bit pathetic until the roots become established. For the most part, the roots will be concentrated in the top 12" of soil and will probably radiate out to the dripline of the canopy. I'd start digging down at the drip line. If you're not exposing roots, move a little closer in to the trunk and dig some more. Eventually you'll be able to recognize the rootmass. Dig under it as best you can and try not to sever any of the large roots. Replant quickly so the roots do not dry out and when you do replant, try to make sure it is planted at the same depth as it was growing before. Be sure to water it well after planting, and water deeply once each week throughout the growing season to help the roots become established. Best wishes with the move!

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