Once planted, it is best to leave trees in place so that they can send out extensive root systems and thrive. Occasionally, though, it becomes necessary to remove a small tree so you can place it in a better location. Keep in mind, though, that this can be tough on the tree and it may not survive, although the following tips can increase your chances of success.
Tip #1: Choose the right season
Early spring, right before the trees leaf out, is the best time to move the plant. This is because root growth is just about to begin, which will allow the tree to quickly establish in the new location. You can also dig up and move deciduous trees in the fall after the leaves drop and the tree goes dormant, but you may need to stake the tree over winter if you live in a windy area, since it won't have time to establish an anchoring root system.
Tip #2: Prep the soil
The goal is to make the digging easy and to ensure the tree is well hydrated before the move. Begin watering the ground around the tree several days in advance of digging. You don't want to create a soggy swamp, but you do want to provide sufficient water so that it seeps deep into the root zones and creates an evenly moist zone around the tree.
Tip #3: Dig wide and deep
The size of the trunk determines the age of the tree and how extensive the root system is. There is no hard and fast system for deciding how big of a root ball to dig, but estimating a foot per inch of trunk diameter is a good place to start. Insert the blade of the shovel into the ground at this distance. If you don't encounter any roots larger than your finger, continue. If you hit larger roots, move away from the trunk by several more inches and then try again. Dig down to below these larger roots all around the tree, and then slide the shovel beneath the root ball and lift the tree out of the ground.
Tip #4: Transport safely
Carrying a tree, even a small one, by the trunk can cause major damage. Instead, wrap the root ball in burlap or a scrap of landscape fabric and carry the tree by the root ball. As an added benefit, the fabric will keep the soil around the roots during transport.
Tip #5: Plant quickly
Plant the same day you remove the tree. Dig a hole to the same depth as the root ball but twice as wide. Set the tree into the hole, and then slide the fabric out from beneath it. Fill the hole in and water well. The soil will need to be kept moist through the summer so that the roots can properly establish.
If you need help or have a bigger tree to remove or move, contact a local tree service like Robert Jefferies Logging & Tree Service.