How to dig a tree by hand
Around here if you pass by a commercial nursery you see hundreds of root balls dug and sitting above the ground ready to be loaded and shipped. The season for digging trees & shrubs is in full swing.
Today this is commonly done by machine and placed in a wire basket. Whenever that is not possible/practical we have to fall back on hand digging. I have linked a video from the Univ of Kentucky.
Digging starts with tieing up the top, am really glad to see that, it protects the branches during digging and shipment. Notice the Leonard spade, GOOD CHOICE. They are really the standard for those of us who dig trees by hand. One thing missing from the video is a digging bar if you have rocky soil as in my case you really need one. After you dig and shape the root ball with the spade pin on the burlap and lace it up. Notice how he fills the hole and uses leverage to roll the ball out which is really the best way. Once out of the hole tie up the bottom of the ball and move with a tree cart. If you are going to load it into an open bed truck you must cover with a tarp even if it is dormant. Most commercial growers will not let you leave the place without covering your trees.
Much of the value of dug stock is in the quality of B&B job. Poorly dug trees with a loose ball will be low value.
Another method of lacing for high value trees is drum-lacing. Search hand tree digging lost art from Angelica Nursery for their video.
Note: An economical alternative to B&B material is bareroot which is sometimes available for deciduous species during the dormant season. Digging and shipping bareroot trees can be done at a fraction of the cost however selection will be limited.
Here is a link that might be useful: Univ of KY youtube