How to Safely and Effectively Transplant a Tree

Don’t say “timber” to that tree just yet

Allie Ogletree
Written by Allie Ogletree
Updated June 7, 2022
A group of people plant a tree
Photo: / Adobe Stock


Only DIY if you know what you're doing.

Time to complete

24 hours


$50 to $100

Put your money toward future projects.

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What you'll need:


  • Flat spade
  • Sharp spade
  • Loppers


  • Burlap sheet or tarp
  • String or rope

Sometimes, landscapes grow. Maybe you have a new vision for your yard and want to put in a pool, or maybe your tree is growing a little too close to your house or those power lines. Either way, things change. Before you bring in the pros to lop down your tree, this DIY tree transplant project could spare your tree and restore its beauty elsewhere in the yard.

Prepping to Transplant a Tree

Transplanting a tree isn’t as simple as just digging it up and moving the tree to a new location. Here are a few important elements to consider before the big move:

Assessing the Scope of the Project

Before you start digging, you’ll need to determine if you can successfully transplant the tree on your own. Mature trees with trunks bigger than 2 inches in diameter will be harder to move and may require a professional who has heavy-duty equipment.

Choosing a Location

Once you’ve decided that this project is doable, you’ll need to find the right location for the transplant. Give your tree the best chance for adaptation by choosing a location that is as similar to the old site as possible. It’s also a good idea to call up 811 to check for underground power lines before you dig.

Timing the Transplant

Trees take six months to transplant because you need to prune the roots many months before you relocate the tree to allow the tree to grow new feeder roots that help it adapt to its new spot. The best time to transfer a tree is in late fall before freezing weather, late winter after the last freeze, or early spring.

Pruning the Roots

Again, you must prune the roots before transferring your tree. This is because large, established roots don’t absorb many nutrients or water from the soil. Root pruning encourages new roots—called feeder roots—to grow near the trunk and give your tree the best chance at surviving the transfer. Here are the pre-transplant steps:

  1. Water the tree a day before pruning.

  2. Measure the trunk to get the diameter.

  3. Dig a 2-foot-deep by a 1-foot-wide trench about 1foot away from the base of the trunk for every inch thick in diameter. 

  4. Prune the roots and then replace the soil, adding a few inches of mulch above it for water retention and insulation. 

  5. After a few months, your tree will be ready for the transplant process.

7 Steps to Transplant a Tree

  1. Water the Tree

    Your pruned tree has had several months to grow new feeder roots, and now it’s time to transplant—but first, water the tree thoroughly like you did before pruning it. Be sure to water all the way to the trench to make it easier to dig out the root ball.

  2. Dig the Replacement Hole

    Go to the new site and dig a large hole that is three times the width of the old hole, maintaining the same depth. Fill this hole with water to prep it.

  3. Get to Digging

    A man digs up a tree
    Photo: Guasor / iStock / Getty Images

    It’s time to unpack the soil around the tree. Use a flat spade to remove the topsoil and work your way around the plant. As you go along, slowly dig deeper, minding the shape of the root ball. 

    The sharp spade comes into play once you’ve removed the topsoil and are ready to dig out the trench again—only this time, you’ll want to dig towards the outer portion of the trench to include new feeder roots that grew during those months after you pruned the tree. 

    Dig 1 to 2 feet into the ground before working your way under the tree, severing the roots there. You may need to use loppers to cut through stubborn, large roots.

  4. Secure the Root Ball

    Now that the tree is no longer connected to the earth, use a burlap sheet to gently roll the tree’s roots onto it. This will secure the root ball. Secure the burlap over the entirety of the root ball to keep it contained.

  5. Transport the Tree

    For large trees, you may need a crew of heavy lifters to help you transfer the tree, but for smaller trees, you might be able to manage this alone. Avoid lifting the tree by the trunk, as doing so could cause the root ball to break apart. Use the burlap wrapping to carry the tree to its new location.

  6. Plant the Tree

    Evenly plant the tree in its new home, keeping the trunk perpendicular to the ground to avoid unsightly leans in your tree. Then, remove the burlap encasement. 

  7. Fill and Water

    Closeup of a tree being planted
    Photo: maxbelchenko / Adobe Stock

    Lastly, use the subsoil from the hole you dug to refill the hole. Add topsoil on top of the subsoil, being sure to tamp the soil along the way. Water the tree well to call it a day!

DIY Tree Transplant vs. Hiring a Pro

For newly planted saplings, transplanting the tree is a straightforward process—you don’t even need a solid root ball for small trees that are 1 inch or smaller in diameter. Most trees that are three to four years old qualify for a bare-root transplant. 

However, if your tree is very large, you’ll need a very large root ball. A good rule of thumb is that, for every inch in diameter, your tree’s root ball needs to be around 11 inches. That means that a tree with a diameter of five inches needs a root ball of approximately 55 inches. Most DIYers don’t have the equipment to tackle a tree of this caliber—or any tree larger than 3 inches, for that matter.

In this case, you’ll want to contact a local tree service to transfer the tree. Tree services cost anywhere between $300 to $1,200 to transfer, with most costing around $800 on average per tree. 

Need professional help with your project?
Get quotes from top-rated pros.