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Moving Red Oaks - Part 2
Answered by Tom Mugridge

Q: Thank you for the advice. I will have them inside on a flat bed trail with a domed tarp to cover all of the trees to protect against wind damage. The Red Oaks are in the middle of a field and I can move them at zero cost.

The alternative is to buy some locally and have them installed for probably $2,000. I still own the farm and I can get them anytime, but the average price I am hearing to move them would be $1,500. What do you think my chances of success will be 30% or lower? Should I prune back a certain number of limbs? How long will it be before I know they are dieing?

A: If you'll have access to the trees in spring, I would advise waiting until then and renting a 50" or bigger tree spade. This will dramatically increase your chance for success.

As it is, it's probably a 50-50 proposition at best, so anything you can do to hedge your bet toward the trees' survival, I'd do it. You have cost estimates for planting and transplanting, so you can see how expensive it can be to lose a tree to transplant shock.

Pruning is unnecessary, other than to remove any dead or broken limbs. You can also remove watersprouts (small twigs growing on the trunk or main limbs toward the trunk) as these do nothing helpful for the tree. Don't thin the tree out, or cut it back. Research shows this doesn't help as it was once thought.

As to how long it will be before you know whether or not they survive the transplant is hard to predict. Sometimes it's (discouragingly) right away, other times it can take 1-3 years.

The trees may look a little "weak" the first year after transplant, but should generally improve over time. Figure 1 year for every inch of trunk caliper.

Watering is critical -- apply 1-2 inches every 10-14 days during any extended dry spells, spring through fall. It wouldn't hurt to water them a week before doing the digging, either.

If you can wait until spring, here's a tip on something you can do now -- root prune the trees. You do this by pushing a flat-bladed spade down 12" just inside the edge of the intended root ball.

In other words, if you'll be digging a 50" ball, root prune at 42"-45". Since fall and early winter is when roots do their most growing, this will stimulate some fibrous root growth before spring, giving the tree a bit more to go on after the transplanting.

You can be cautious and only do about 1/3 of the circumference of the root ball. Calculate the circumference, divide it into 9 equal arcs, then root prune every 3rd arc. This will help develop fibrous roots in 3 different places on 3 sides of the root ball, instead of concentrating them all on 1 side.

Good luck!

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