Maple moves in winter... any other tree all year!

I have a question. I need to transplant my 3' tall Japanese Maple within the next two weeks. Do you have any recommendations for a successful transplant. - J.C. -


Smooth move to work in winter

The dormant season is a good time to move pretty much any kind of tree, yours included. Some winters, ice prevents the move, or makes it very tough to do the initial trenching. This year, you may find no ice at all, or be able to crack the soil surface in a trice.

The only winter-specific advice we have is to keep some extra muscle on call. If there's much ice in the ground it makes the root ball heavier, and the top layer of soil may be impossible to peel away. Removing soil is a tactic we depend on to reduce the weight yet dig wide enough to take more of the roots.

What's Coming Up Issue #154, pages 16-18 has photos from the last time we moved a Japanese maple.

Timeless advice for moving a tree

This next five bits of advice apply all year:

1) Start digging outside the drip line to identify how far out the roots have spread -- how big a circle of roots it is. Try to take them all.

2) Never use the tree's trunk as a lever to tip or handle to carry the tree. The soil weighs more than the trunk is "designed" to bear. If you do push on the trunk to shift that weight it can break connections between roots and soil, between trunk and roots, and/or bruise and scrape the cambium where you grip. Instead, move a root ball by tipping the ball itself. Slide a tarp under it, then skid the whole package to its new home. Given a few friends willing to come out and play, it's also easy to lift such a package. Everyone can get an easy handhold on the tarp.

3) Replant a tree at the same level it was growing.

4) Put a fluffy mulch over the entire root system and keep that area snow covered, or moist if there's no frost in the ground.

5) Set up a wind barrier if there's any chance the tree will be in brisk wind. A Japanese maple shouldn't be in such a place but we know sometimes they are. Sometimes, too, they're loaded into an open vehicle for their move, by a gardener who hasn't realized the drying and abrasive effects of a 35 mph wind. Even leafless twigs and buds can dry and die.

Continue wind protection through spring. Lots of water is required by rapidly growing leaves, but it's nothing compared to how much moves up from the soil and through the leaves if wind continually disperses the protective film of water vapor that should cloak the foliage.