Moving and Transplanting Trees with a Tree Spade


After my newsletter dealing with moving commercially grown, container stock onto a property, people have asked what’s involved in digging up and moving a mature tree to a new location. Well, it is, essentially, just like transplanting any plant, only on a very large and expensive scale.

Here is a condensation from an excellent article that comes from the University of Minnesota’s “Sustainable Urban Landscape information Series” or SULIS. So if you want really detailed information, check out the entire article.

Tree Spading & What’s Involved

Tree spading is a common method for moving and transplanting large trees from one site to another. The following are some reasons for transplanting large trees vs. younger, smaller trees are:


  • To prevent the loss of a tree due to building, roadway expansion or other construction;
  • To create space for a new building addition;
  • A particular mature tree has outgrown its present location;
  • To alter the design of a landscape;
  • To move a tree to a site better suited to its needs;
  • To create a mature landscape quickly.

Initially, transplanting a tree with a tree spade may be more costly than purchasing container stock or B&B trees. However, the tree spade may be the best option if a tree will otherwise be lost or if the value of the tree outweighs the moving costs. Spading is also saves labor, planting time and years of maintenance of the juvenile tree. Spading also eliminates the possible risk of mower damage that commonly occurs on younger, smaller trees.

Dutchman_95_Tree_Spade_on_LoaderTree spades are used in various ways throughout the green industry. Commercial nurseries use tree spades to lift large, field-grown trees out of the soil, and wrap the root ball in burlap and twine (termed “ball and burlap” or B&B) for retail sale or compact storage. Landscape companies and arborists use spades to plant large trees that are nursery-grown or have been moved from elsewhere in the landscape. Landscape professionals use a tree spade to create an “instant landscape” by digging and transplanting large trees from one location to another.

Homeowners can also use spades to locate trees on residential sites. Trailer-mounted spades that can hold a soil ball up to 44 inches in diameter are available at some rental centers. However, due to safety issues, and the complexity of the equipment and processes involved, it is strongly recommended that individuals hire an experienced contractor specializing in tree spading to transplant trees.

Dig Safety

Always contact the proper company or municipality for the location of underground utilities prior to digging. It is also important that you locate private lines such as irrigation systems, wiring for landscape lighting, water lines that serve water fountains and ponds, etc. In Minnesota, call GOPHER ONE at 651-454-0002 or contact a qualified professional contractor regarding the utility location prior to breaking ground.

Supplies and Specifications:

Tree spades are available in a variety of types and sizes. Some spades have the capacity to move a tree with a maximum trunk diameter of eight to 10 inches, or a soil ball up to 90 inches in diameter. The size of the spade is critical. It must be large enough to accommodate a root ball that will sufficiently sustain the tree after planting. If a spade is too small, the root system will be too small to allow for long term establishment and the tree will die. When determining the spade size needed to move a tree, deciduous trees are measured by trunk diameter and evergreens are measured by tree height. A tree spade can be used to move one tree at a time or a pod trailer may be used to move as many as three trees at one time.

Tree spade size

Deciduous tree – trunk diameter

Evergreen tree – height

44 inches

2 to 3 inches

5 to 7 feet

66 inches

3 to 5 inches

7 to 10 feet

92 inches

6 to 8 inches

12 to 15 feet

Trunk diameters are measured using a caliper, six inches above the ground for tree four inches in diameter or smaller and 12 inches above the ground for trees with a large diameter.



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