Advice on digging and moving Japanese maples in the landscape

Discussion in 'Maples' started by winterhaven, Dec 28, 2010.

  1. winterhaven

    winterhaven Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    [Originally posted in another thread]

    If the tree is routinely getting scorched then I would think it's routinely getting stressed. Move it once more, it may be a little stressful for the tree (likely more stressful for you) but it will only be the once rather than routinely. And it's a good time right now to be moving - I just relocated a few the weekend before last.

    And you'd be surprised at the size of trees you can move. I got a Fireglow with over an eight inch caliper last winter that had been in someone's yard for many years. It took a backhoe to get it out but it transplanted just fine. You tree isn't nearly that size. With the help of one man, I've moved trees your size many times with good results (and I'm a girl).

    Should you decide to proceed, this is how I have moved my trees (with a helper):

    Dig a trench around the rootball until you get to the bottom of it and can get a shovel under the tree
    Get the tree loose in its hole and gently shake dirt off the roots at the edge to reduce weight (with your fingers)
    Slope the side of the hole from which you'll be dragging the tree
    Get a tarp and roll (not fold) from one edge until 1/2 the tarp is rolled up
    Tilt the tree (this is where help is really useful)
    Shove the rolled portion of the tarp under the tree, being sure to get past the midline of the rootball
    Tilt the tree the other direction (remember to thank the helper) and unroll the tarp
    Now the two of you can use the tarp to pull the tree out of the hole and the tarp will help keep the rootball intact. Further, you can drag the tree across a lot of lawn to get to the next hole.

    Good luck.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 29, 2010
  2. amazingmaples

    amazingmaples Well-Known Member

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    Re: Lifting an Acer palmatum

    Moving japanese maples is very easy with the right tools. A straight edged shovel is the most important tool with a nice sharp blade. Pruners, loopers and saws do help. I am always amazed at how fast the pros dig these trees out of the ground and how small of a rootball they can take. Important in digging out trees is to not disturb the soil from where you decide to cut the rootball into the tree. With the shovel cut a line around the tree and dig out away from the tree. One major flaw people do is to try and and dig under the tree and pry it up before that have cut the trench around the tree. In most cases with japanese maples, you will not find strong tap roots under the tree unless it is was in a place where it needed to search down for water so the main roots which need to be cut will be found in the first foot or so of digging down.
    While digging down, I have seen the pros tend to throw the shovel "straight down" into the ground chopping the roots as they go around the tree. When they hit a bigger root, they then dig on each side of it uncovering it enough so they can cut it.
    Once they have dug to where the roots are starting to go down, they start cuting under the tree. The rootball should start to look like a golf ball on a tee. Still throwing the shovel, they cut the roots going down and keep digging out away from the tree.
    All the while, it is not good to try and wiggle the tree out, it is best to leave it alone. At one point you will find the tree does feel like it can be tipped over, at this time "slowly push" the tree in on direction and while doing this, cut the roots going down. (hopefully there is not major tap root) which requires to be dug around and cut. Depending on the size of the tree, you may need to slowly push it in diferent directions cutting the root as you push it in a new direction (do not twist or shake the tree). If you slowly cut the bottom roots off the tree will soon be free to be moved. As joyce said, using the burlap or tarp is great. With two people you can hold the corners of the burlap and pull the tree out of the hole.
    The key I have seen is picking a cut line and digging straight down and away from the tree and while not to pry the tree out until the whole rootball has been cut.
    I get many trees which have been dug out of the fields that are 2" to 3" caliper and they have rootballs which are only 20" to 30" in diameter.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 29, 2010
  3. maf

    maf Well-Known Member Maple Society

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    Re: Lifting an Acer palmatum

    Is that a good rule of thumb that can be applied to most sizes of Japanese maple? ie. 10 inches of rootball for every inch of caliper?

    There isn't a FAQ for moving in-ground Japanese maples on the forum as of yet, these last two posts might make a good start if winterhaven and Charlie are willing to let them be used as the basis.
     
  4. amazingmaples

    amazingmaples Well-Known Member

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    Re: Lifting an Acer palmatum

    I will ask my guy who digs trees out daily if they have a company policy as to where they cut the rootball. Odviously the bigger the rootball the safer but it may not be practical. I have seen trees dug which are 8" caliper and the rootball has not been much more than about 36" in diameter and the tree had no issues the next season. The big Red Emperor I have which is about 6" caliper only had a rootball about 38" diameter and it came from out of a nursery field where they could use tractors to move it so there was no reason to restrict the size as the other 8" caliper tree.
    Now Joyce's 8" caliper Fireglow had about 4 foot diameter rootball since we had a tractor to get it out of the ground and into the truck.
    Now the crazy fact is I dug out a 3" caliper japanese maple from an overgrown japanese garden and the rootball was only 10" in diameter and the tree lived. I have found that the rootstock of these trees is pretty darn strong and can take a lot of abuse "in the more mature tree".
    What I have seen from watching the diggers is they try and find the spot where the roots tend to be small and they can just throw down the shovel into the ground and chop the roots with no effort. They find the spot by tapping the shovel into the ground around the tree.
    There are a couple shovels with 14" long "blades" which make digging out trees 100 times easier. When you watch the guys dig out trees with these shovels you can just laugh, they can pop a tree out of the ground in minutes which most people believe can not be moves.
    The digging out of the tree is not usually what causes damage. Every bit as important is how the tree is cared for after it has been dug. Issues might be found in the trees new location so it is very imortant to take extra care for a tree when it has been relocated. I saw a massicure of trees, the trees had been professionally dug with large rootballs but the trees were planted on property with a high water table that must have flooded out these stressed trees.
     
  5. maf

    maf Well-Known Member Maple Society

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    One other reference I checked recommends (for Acer palmatum) a 24" wide rootball for trunk diameter up to 3" and a 36" rootball for a trunk diameter of up to 6". Pretty much in agreement with the figures quoted above. As has previously been mentioned you are better off with as much root mass as you can handle, depending on what you can lift between yourself and your helper(s), and how far you need to move it.
     
  6. NJACER

    NJACER Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Great thread everyone. I have been moving trees for many years and maples tend to be very forgiving. As stated above, keeping the root ball intact has been a key to my success. The 10 inch of root ball for each inch of caliper is I believe the nursery trade standard.

    Please see attached link for lots of tips on container size as well as root ball size. The file is too large to post. http://agri.nv.gov/Brochures/ANLAStandard2004.pdf
     
  7. winterhaven

    winterhaven Active Member Maple Society 10 Years

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    Yes, of course, I feel honored. And it was from Charlie that I learned most of what I know about moving trees around. He's got a lot of experience at moving around trees so he's a great resource.

    That's exactly right. Charlie did a more thorough job explaining and I appreciate the clarification. The trees I've moved around have already been dug out of the ground before and I'm generally moving them within a few years of planting them in order to optimize their sun/shade exposure and my color palette. So mine have "popped out" of the ground, relatively speaking.

    I saw this slideshow on youtube that just happens to be lifting a specimen sized JM at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o-Hho5-v4jg.

    For what it's worth, in the slides, they recommended the diameter of the trunk in inches should match the diameter of the rootball in feet. Maybe they were trying for something really easy to remember, maybe they just prefer a little bigger rootball.

    But I think what was said earlier in the thread makes a lot of sense - basically, the tree will tell you, if you listen. And sometimes physical limitations dictate taking more chances than you'd like.

    NJACER, love the resource. Thanks!
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2010
  8. M. D. Vaden

    M. D. Vaden Active Member 10 Years

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    Not so sure that the pruning was needed in the video, in light of the latest info I've read.

    The rootball was rather small, but maybe that is all they could handle.

    I just dug a root ball that width for a 4" trunk weeping J. maple with a 9 foot spread and maybe 4 foot high canopy. The root ball was about 16 inches thick. I'm guessing 1200 pounds of soil. The tree only had to move 8 feet or so, and I dug a trench and pulled it to the new spot with a 4 wheel drive.

    Transplanting is something I don't do often, because it can be so tedious to dig the ball beneath limbs. Hinoki cypress is probably my favorite tree to move.
     

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