Tree Transplanting and Establishment

By Gary W. Watson
Champaign, IL (June 2000)- Both experience and research make it clear that almost any size tree of any species can be transplanted. Success depends on the reestablishment of a normal spreading root system. An understanding of how roots grow and take up water can aid the process, even on difficult sites.


Many aspects of transplanting change over time. Modern equipment has made it possible to transplant larger trees with “soil balls” more affordably. Containerized production has grown in popularity for many reasons, including the ability to plant in any season. One thing remains the same-plants must quickly establish or reestablish a normal, spreading root system on the new site to minimize susceptibility to stress and assure survival.
Stress after transplanting, often called transplanting shock, is caused primarily by drought stress. Field-grown trees can lose up to 95 percent of their roots when they are dug from the field. This small portion of the root system has difficulty absorbing enough water to meet the needs of the tree. Plants grown in containers are also subjected to drought stress after planting, not because of root loss, but because water drains out of the light soilless container media much faster after it is planted m the ground than when it was in the pot. To compound the problem, irrigation is typically less frequent than it was in the container nursery. All newly planted trees will be subjected to stress until a normal spreading root system has developed.
Related Resources:
Tree Transplanting and Establishment
Morton Arboretum
Arborist News