Transplanting Trees

Trees don’t always have to settle their roots in one permanent resting place. There are now options available to relocate trees to places that may need more shade or aesthetic appeal.

“Sometimes you can save existing trees,” says Brian Williams, owner of Worldwide Tree Moving, which specializes in transporting adult trees. “They can provide instant shade, and retain the value of the park.”

Through the transportation process, 80 percent of the root ball of the tree is preserved. Typically, when a tree is first planted, it only retains about 30 to 40 percent of the root ball. Once a move has been completed, the tree is augmented with water to make up the difference in root-ball volume. This process enables trees to maintain their vitality and become self-sustained after being relocated, offering flexibility to landscaping.

Because this is not a standard operating procedure for most park systems, outsourcing a moving job can be cost-effective, as well as a new solution to save trees.

When To Take New Root

Some factors that determine if a tree is a good candidate for moving include timing, soil, weather conditions, surrounding structures and life-expectancy.

1. Timing. Most trees need to be prepped months in advance of a move. Timing can be affected by changes in weather, the impact of traffic or construction surrounding the area and overall ability to fund a project. A timeline depends on the scope of the project as well as the equipment necessary to complete the job, the number of trees being relocated and any constraints in dealing with sidewalks, buildings or other infrastructure issues. Some jobs can be completed in a week, while others take longer. Another consideration is the time of year--if a tree is moved prior to blooming, it can self-regulate; if it is moved later, after the leaves have bloomed, it will need to be augmented with additional water.

2. Soil. Whether the soil is clay or sand will affect the project because special equipment may need to be brought in to penetrate the ground if it is too hard.

3. Weather conditions. The weather impacts two aspects of a project: the ability to get into an area effectively to remove a tree, and the tree’s ability to withstand the same elements in the new location. If a tree was in a sunny spot and is moved to a shady, wooded area, the temperature can affect its sustainability. Other weather considerations include the wind and the amount of water an area will naturally receive.

4. Surrounding structures. It’s important to survey the surrounding area because utility lines and infrastructure can limit the ability to move a tree. Also, city ordinances may prohibit a tree-moving project.

5. Life Expectancy. If a tree is already 60 years old, and is only expected to live another 20 years, it can be a deterrent to invest the funds on such a project. Another factor is the overall health of a tree--only healthy trees can survive being moved to new locations.


The size of a tree is determined by its trunk diameter, which helps estimate the size of the root ball. The size of the root ball determines the equipment necessary to dig and relocate the tree.

When a tree is 35 to 40 inches in trunk diameter, it can be difficult to find the equipment to move the tree to another site. Most equipment within a parks and recreation department only has the capability to move a tree with a 9- to 10-inch trunk diameter. Once a tree reaches the size of a 14- to 16-inch diameter trunk, it requires special equipment to handle the job. For instance, a 10-inch trunk diameter requires a 13,000-pound root ball, while a 14-inch trunk diameter requires a 45,000-pound root ball, and a 24-inch inch trunk diameter requires a 120,000- to 200,000-pound root ball. The small increase in diameter vastly increases the size of the root ball. Different types of equipment are used in order to hold the root ball. These include cranes, excavators and tow trucks. These vehicles allow for the tree to be moved side to side without lifting and damaging the roots.

After The Move

Some trees may require aftercare in order to become sustainable. Williams suggests conducting a weather analysis to be on track with any climate or precipitation changes the tree may have undergone. An arborist can be contracted to monitor the progress.

Although every tree might not be saved by moving it, there are options to consider before beginning a construction project or removing a tree simply because it has been deemed a nuisance.

Heather Reichle is a freelance writer living in Columbus, Ohio. She can be reached via e-mail at