How to transplant a big tree: expert method and tips

transplant a big tree

Image via: Pexels

Sometimes it takes a few years to realize that the originally small tree has grown quite tall – far too big for its current location. Or the 100-year-old beech that is too valuable to lose must now give way to an urban construction project. No matter why transplanting is necessary, it takes a long time to plan. Our guide will help you understand how to transplant a big tree.

transplant a big tree
Large trees usually have very large roots, which can be damaged during transplanting

Why transplanting big trees is problematic

You can not simply dig up a big and old tree and plant it in a new location. It is unlikely to survive this procedure. The reason for this lies in the countless fine roots, which are responsible for the intake of water and nutrients and are therefore vital. These are always far from the trunk and are easily cut when digging. The resulting imbalance between the severely shortened root ball and the above-ground tree part causes the tree to starve. 

Incidentally, tree nurseries circumvent this problem by transplanting the trees every three to five years, or at least cropping their roots. As a result, a compact root system can develop and transplanting is easier.

How to transplant a big tree

You can also use this in the home garden. The best way to do this is as follows:

  • In the autumn before the planned transplanting you prune the roots around the tree trunk with a spade.
  • The chosen diameter should be approximately equal to that of the crown.
  • Dig a narrow, deep trench.
  • Fill it with compost.
  • Wait one year until next fall.
  • Now lift the ditch again.
  • The root ball should have developed compactly.
  • In this way less vital roots are lost during transplanting.
  • Cut the roots outside of this ball.
  • Loosen the root ball.
  • Dig out the tree and plant it in its new location.
  • Do not forget to cut it back by at least one third.
  • Water abundantly, which facilitates the growth.

For very large and old trees, this work can be accomplished only with a correspondingly heavy device. In this case, it makes sense to entrust a specialist company with the task. This also increases the chance that the tree will survive the procedure.


If you realize you ever want to, or have to, have the young tree, consider the tree nursery method: cut the roots every three years for a compact growth.

Find more tree tips in our garden section.