Relocating Mature Trees
June 29, 2006 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Can large, mature trees be transplanted, and are there some cost-effective (i.e. cheap or free) ways to have it done?

I’m moving into a new house soon, and as usual, most of the trees that were there before had to be removed to build it (…but that’s another rant). The thing is, there are plenty of undeveloped properties nearby with suitable trees on them that will likely get cut down for the expansion of shopping, business, parking lots, etc. (same rant as above!)

Is it a practical idea to transplant a tree from there, rather than simply plant a new one and wait 30 years for the shade?

I know there are companies that do that, but they won’t supply a ballpark estimate unless you give them all kinds of specific information first. There are other issues as well, such as who owns the land the tree is presently on, etc. I just want to find out:
a) Anyone out there done this before?
b) How difficult/easy is it?
c) How can I minimize the cost?

(For instance, on that last one, can a person rent a “scoop” truck and do it themselves? Any possible grant money available to save trees? Benevolent donations, nice persons with money? Anything?)

Please help me out, askMeFites, you’re the only ones who can!
posted by Bobtheordinary to Home & Garden (10 answers total)
I remember seeing a This Old House where they moved a couple trees. I remember that it cost at least a few thousand per tree.

I'm googling around to try to find the episode in question.
posted by voidcontext at 12:26 PM on June 29, 2006

I don't know about cost, but the equipment you're looking for is a tree spade.
posted by jrossi4r at 12:35 PM on June 29, 2006

Probably your best bet is to get a group of neighbours together, talk to the developers and come up with a plan to get grant funding using your own labour and some developer equipment as match money. Ideally the developers would donate the time and equipment to dig up and transport the trees and you'd do the replanting, aftercare and fund the necessary permitting as a group. You'll need an arborist out there to tell you which trees are suitbale to move and which are too old or diseased, which are native or invasive, which are good for wildlife etc. I'd try the Arbor Day Foundation, your state Fish and Game or local USFWS rep for some initial pointers.

FWIW I think this is a great idea. Good luck to you!
posted by fshgrl at 12:36 PM on June 29, 2006

There are also companies that do this. I know you're probably into the DIY approach, but keep in mind that you may be able to hire a company to either transplant those trees if you get permission, or just install all new trees. I know someone who had this done and it's quite a thing to watch.
posted by jessamyn at 12:37 PM on June 29, 2006

Ron Byleckie, a veteran of mature tree transplanting with over 20 years experience explained, "A tree typically loses up to 90% of its root system in the transplantation process. As a result, trees are diminished in their capacity to uptake the water and nutrients they need to survive. In order to minimize transplant shock, the tree must be placed in intensive care, before, during and after transplanting." When moving a mature tree, Mr. Byleckie recommends the following guidelines for success:
...from here

These guys move trees up to 45' tall with their largest spade.

So it looks like its possible, just not trivial and probably better to call professionals. You'll need their heavy equipment, anyways...
posted by rsanheim at 12:43 PM on June 29, 2006

It was This Old House Program #1810 - they used a tree scoop to plant 30 year old evergreens. I have found the episode description on this page:

The Watertown House 1998, search for episode 1810.
posted by voidcontext at 12:43 PM on June 29, 2006

Yep, I've seen this done with palms and pines and it's expensive. The city had to remove some awsome shade trees from an easement on my property and the best they could do was plant some six footers for me.
posted by snsranch at 5:17 PM on June 29, 2006

My campus moved several hundred trees to make way for new buildings. I'm sure we didn't spend thousands per so there are economies of scale if you can get several neighbours together and don't have to transport them far.
posted by Mitheral at 9:46 PM on June 29, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for the thoughts! Yes, I assumed the tree would need SOME prep, extensive attention, etc. If this looks viable, then I could easily identify and prep a tree in plenty of time for it to be ready when needed.

voidcontext, thanks, I'll check out the Old House episode. I love that show, but like many design shows, it always seems like it's "money no object" (or at least, more than I'll ever see!)

jrossi4r - you're right, I just couldn't think of the word at the time...

fshgirl, it seems like a "good cause" that many neighborhoods could benefit from, if someone would take the reins, so to speak. I just hate seeing all those trees go to tree heaven before their time, ya know?

Jessamyn, I realize DIY is a little beyond me on this one - I think a 40-foot tree is a little too big for my small truck! But I had this scenario play out in my mind once: I see one of those tree spades parked at a convenience store while the guys are getting coffee. I walk up and say, "Hey, you guys want to make a quick $250? Go across the street there and scoop up that tree for me and put it over there!" They do it, and an hour later I have a tree, they have extra spending money, and everyone goes home happy. (my mind is sometimes an interesting place...)
posted by Bobtheordinary at 6:51 AM on June 30, 2006

This is just some trivia. I was lucky enough to tour Disneys Animal Kingdom the first day anyone from 'the public' was allowed to. There were these big, weird trees that had been translated from Africa, at a cost of $1 million, each.
posted by JamesMessick at 5:54 PM on June 30, 2006

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