Trees And Shrubs

Transplanting Oak Trees

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This article is directed at the homeowner or landscaper who wants to grow oaks from acorns or transplant small oak trees from a vacant lot, or woods to their property. The author has transplanted oak trees in Ohio, California, and Florida and has grown oaks from acorns. The article is based on this experience.

David Beaulieu's article How to TransplantTransplanting Trees and Shrubs is an excellent summary of the basic rules. You may read it at

The trees should be transplanted when they are dormant the winter months. Northern oaks shed their leaves. Some California and Florida oaks do not shed their leaves or shed them incompletely so one may think it is not the time to transplant. Some oaks do not become completely dormant. Nevertheless, a good rule of thumb for these states with a climate similar to California and Florida is to transplant from mid December through mid to late March.

Transplanting an oak is a labor-intensive task. Oaks are most easily transplanted when they are small (under three feet tall) and less than three years old. Oaks develop a taproot that often can be almost as long as the tree is tall. Cutting the taproot usually results in the tree dying within months after it is planted. For this reason substantial digging is required so the whole tree (taproot and the root mass) can be removed from the hole.

For this reason one should begin digging at least a foot away from the trunk, more if a larger tree. As you dig down and around, avoid digging into the root mass that is, those small roots growing out from the main root that is the taproot. Eventually you will have dug deep enough that the tree is starting to lean. Wiggle the tree and try lifting it out without jerking or applying too much pull. If the tree doesn't seem to be easily removed, continue to dig down and around. Eventually you will determine that the tree can be pulled from the hole.

However, at this point you want to protect the root mass and the soil that the roots are attached to.

If you can maneuver a shovel under the tree, you are ready to remove it. First slip a tarp or a heavy-duty plastic trash bag under the tree root mass. Bring the bag up around the root mass and tie it around the trunk. The tree can now be easily lifted out of the hole with root mass intact along with the earth the roots have grown into.

The tree is now ready for planting in a hole you have already dug. There are several reasons for "pre-digging" the hole.

First, hopefully you have picked the right location; from an aesthetics
point of view; because you and anyone else with an interest have agreed on the location, and finally because you want to plant your new tree as quickly as possible. The hole should be several inches wider than the tree's root mass.

Put in several inches of garden soil or mulch first. Lower the tree into the hole and carefully remove the trash bag or tarp you used to maintain the root mass and earth.

Add garden soil or mulch around root mass. You should plant the tree so the trunk is at the same level as it was where it was growing. I recommend an inch or so higher to compensate for some settling that will occur. Water the planting thoroughly. Think "Drenched." We don't want any air space left around the roots that might allow them to dry out. On the other had, we also don't
want to stomp the earth down around the trunk. Firmness is good, but not "cement hard".

You should consider staking the tree so it doesn't grow leaning in some direction. Use the green gardening tape that can stretch.

Trees must be able to move in the wind so they develop a strong central trunk and a strong root system. A tree that is rigidly tied and can't move is much more prone to develop a shallow root system.

You should now prune off one to three lower branches. Any transplanting shocks a tree's system. By pruning off several lower branches, the tree doesn't have to try as hard to survive. It will recover more quickly.

Over fertilizing will kill a young tree. I prefer to use a fertilizer peg. Drive it into the ground about six to eight inches from the trunk.

No more than once a year. Mighty oaks from little acorns grown but it does take time, and patience.

At our Florida house, my oaks were 24-30 inches tall when I transplanted them four years ago. They are now all eight to ten feet high and growing.

Finally, protect the trunk from weed-wackers. Hardware store sell trunk protectors. One can also use flexible plastic tubing. Cut a six inch length and useCarefully-a sharp knife to make a lengthwise slit.

Growing oaks from acorns.

In both California and Florida I have very successfully grown oak seedlings from acorns. I start them in a flat using potting soil or garden soil. After the acorn sprouts and has grown to two to three inches, the seedling may be very carefully transplanted into a standard nursery one gallon container. I have experimented with putting a plastic bag into the container, then adding the soil. The reason is that you will find the tap root of the little oaks will quickly grown out through the holes in the container bottom. The plastic bag prevents this. It doesn't seem to have affected the tree's growth when you eventually transplant it to a desired location. If you don't use a bag, and find the root has grown out through a hole, you can carefully pull the root back through the hole when you transplant it. Or, you can cut open the container.

I let the little trees grown at least two years before planting them in a permanent location.


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