Question: We live in Tippecanoe county and need to transplant a tulip tree that is 2-3’ tall. Could you please tell me when the optimal time would be to transplant? I have read to transplant in the spring, but would like more specific information, so that it will have a good chance of surviving.
Answer: Early spring (before leaves emerge) and fall (after leaf drop) are the best times to transplant deciduous trees. Evergreens are most successfully transplanted in early spring and late summer (late August to mid-September).
Dig and move trees with the soil root mass adhering to portions of their root systems to minimize damage and improve chances of survival. The soil should be moist when the plant is dug. If the soil is dry, thoroughly water the area 3 to 4 days before digging. When digging trees, the radius of the root ball should be approximately 8 to 12 inches for each inch of trunk diameter at chest height. For example, a tree with a 1-inch-diameter trunk should have a soil ball that is 16 to 24 inches in diameter. Using a spade, dig a trench around the tree to a depth of 1½ to 2 feet. Then cut beneath the roots, rounding the bottom of the soil ball. Tip the soil ball to one side, place a piece of burlap or a small tarp in the trench on the opposite side, then carefully tip or roll the soil ball over onto the burlap. IMPORTANT! Manipulate the ball by the root/soil mass and NOT the tree trunk. Tightly secure the burlap or tarp around the soil ball to move it to its next home. Lift and carry the root ball rather than grasping the trunk. If transporting in a vehicle at speeds, be sure to cover the tender buds with a tarp to protect them from drying out.
If possible, replant the tree immediately. Dig a hole that is 2 times the width of the tree’s rootball. The depth of the hole should be 2 or 3 inches less than the height of the soil ball. Be sure the root flare is visible to get the exact depth. Carefully lower the tree into the hole, position it correctly, and begin to place soil back into the hole. Firm the soil around the tree’s rootball with your hands. Then complete the backfilling of the hole and water thoroughly.
Do not allow the soil ball to break during the digging, moving, and replanting process. Home gardeners should limit themselves to transplanting small trees. Trees with a trunk diameter greater than 2 inches should be left to nursery professionals.
Post-planting should include supplemental watering and no fertilization for the first year. Staking or guying may be necessary in vulnerable areas such as exposed or windy sites. Finish with mulch and monitor for pests and dry conditions.
Certified Arborist to come to your property: Find an Arborist, International Society of Arboriculture
Send in a sample/photos to help diagnose: Purdue Plant & Pest Diagnostic Lab, Botany & Plant Pathology
Contact Purdue Extension County Educator
Publications, Videos and Apps, Purdue Extension-The Education Store:
Tree Installation: Process and Practices
Planting Forest Trees and Shrubs in Indiana
Instructional/training videos (planting tree tips, identifying trees, landscaping with trees and much more):
Purdue Extension – Forestry and Natural Resources YouTube Channel
Join Us LIVE and Ask an Expert: Virtual Live Workshops with Q&A
Invasive Forest Pests in IN, Purdue Extension-Entomology
Indiana Invasive Species Council
Midwest Landscapes: Purdue Landscape Report, Purdue University
Apps, Purdue Extension-The Education Store: Tree Doctor
Workshops available for land and woodland owners: Purdue Extension-Forestry and Natural Resources Calendar
Lindsey Purcell, Urban Forestry Specialist
Purdue University, Department of Forestry and Natural Resources