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Moving Red Oaks
Answered by Tom Mugridge

Q: I have a farm near Akron, Ohio from which I am going to move two Red Oaks. One is about 5-6" the other is 4-5". I have already rented a Tree Spade to dig up 30-40 Spruces and I will be using the same equipment to transplant these oaks. The spade is a 33" cone hole digger. I hoping to get any advice I can on how to give these trees the best chance of survival.

I will be moving and transplanting them this weekend in Ohio during weather that looks to be cloudy and 50s. The new location is about 45 miles away and is clay soil. I plan on using liquid root builder fertilizer, burlaping and basket, drip watering for an hour after transplanting.

Any additional advice would be great. These trees are sentimental and are gorgeous. Thank You.

A: My main concern is the size of the root ball you will get using the 33" spade. Technically, you want a minimum of 10" of root ball for every inch of trunk caliper (diameter) when measured at 6" above the ground (12" of root ball per trunk caliper inch is much better).

In other words, if your oaks measure 5" at 6" above ground level, you would want a minimum of a 50" root ball. With the 33" spade, you'll be undersizing the root ball by a lot of inches.

My other concern is that red oaks do not transplant easily. They prefer to be transplanted in spring instead of fall -- seems they like soil that is getting warmer as time goes on (spring) versus soil that is getting colder (fall, into winter).

Sometimes transplanting a red oak in fall, despite the root ball size, is enough to lose it. That's why we always wait to plant a red oak until spring-time.

However, if these trees have a sentimental value to you, go for it. If you'll have no chance to see the trees once you've moved, it's still worth taking a chance that at least one will survive the move.

Also, cover the crown with a "breathable" tarp. This will protect it from the wind as you drive along. The same would go for the spruces -- keep them covered/protected from the wind, or they'll burn up on the highway. Even going just 25 mph can toast them.

When you dig the new holes, be sure the hole width is at least 1 1/2 times the width of the root ball, break up the soil you remove real well, and don't pop the trees in like corks. Doing so discourages the roots from growing outward.

Digging a wide hole gives roots a chance to penetrate the broken up backfill much more easily, giving them a head start in the right direction. Also, be sure to plant the trees at or slightly above grade. Too many trees die from being planted too deeply, especially in a clay soil.

You can add a bit of organic material to the backfill, such as peat moss. You might also incorporate a little super phosphate, which stimulates root growth. Roots do most of their growing in fall, so this will help your transplants get started a bit faster, which will ease the transplant shock.

Good luck, and please let me know how the trees turn out next year.

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Tom Mugridge

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