transplanting a couple trees that popped up in the wrong area

hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)November 14, 2012

I have two trees sprouting in a perennial bed that I'd like to move, as they are in a location not appropriate for their eventual size.

One is a sugar maple seedling. It's 2 years old but resprouted from the ground this spring (my wife cut it at the ground last fall), so it's a 1 yr top with a 2 yr root system. It's in beautiful bright orange foliage right now and about 24" tall.

The other is a sweetgum (Liquidambar) sapling, about 85" tall, about an inch caliper now - it has grown about three feet each of the last 2 growing seasons and probably has a pretty extensive root system now.

For each tree, how would I go about moving them? How far out, and down, should I dig to try to get as much root as possible?

Is now or spring a better time?

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joeschmoe80(6 (Ohio))

The little maple shouldn't be too hard to move. I'm guessing it's just a pencil-thickness or so, and if that's the case, I'd just dig about a foot to 18" out from the trunk and as deep as you go, and it would be OK to bare the roots. You can move it now from what I remember.

The sweetgum, I don't know as much about those...

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 5:39PM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

I think these should answer all your questions:

How to Plant a Tree or Shrub

Generic Rootball Size Guide

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 6:26PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

cant speak to timing in your area ...

but this is all you need .. relative to size ... thats about one foot on center.. or two foot total.. for a 7 to 8 foot tree ... which is all you would get in a pot from bigboxstore .. except all twisted up .. lol ..

no need to go deep ... otherwise follow brandons link to how to do it ...

are they fully dormant??? .. no leaves???


    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 6:55PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

The maple is in full color and has dropped a couple leaves.

The Liquidambar is still mostly green, just now showing some purple and yellow.

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 7:35PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

Are you sure you want that sweetgum with its litter?

I don't like the typical species fall color which is exactly what you described not the bright vibrant red that most think the tree gets.

I'd transplant in spring before the buds begin to swell. I'm thinking the timing for your area is mid-March?

    Bookmark   November 14, 2012 at 10:15PM
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toronado3800 Zone 6 StLouis(6)

Next to my house the hostas stay green longer than out in the beds. Must be heat from my old house seeping out making em go dormant later.

Not sure how that effects this, maybe a vote for transplant now or in spring bit dont delay if you transplant now

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 2:43AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

on my pic above.. to get a 2 foot wide set of roots.. i started digging 3 feet away .. [foot and a half each side] ... cut all the lateral roots.. and found the tap root and cut it also [dont get wound up in that root being more important than the rest] .. sharpening your shovel first really makes a difference .. and insure you know where all the utilities are.. this close to the house ... hitting an electrical line is way to exciting .. lol ..

once out.. i use a good pair of hand pruners.. to neatly cut each root end ... they 'heal' better.. for lack of a better term ...

some suggest.. once the tree starts turning color.. it is basically dormant above ... the point is.. we dont want to worry about 'saving' those leaves.. and they will all fall off quickly after transplant ... but that said.. i still dont personally know proper TIMING ...

and.. as noted.. just because its free.. doesnt make it a great tree .. in fact.. the fact that they self-sowed themselves into your garden.. should give you an inkling of one of their problem .... now you have one of each.. soon.. you will have hundreds of each ......

i enjoyed a sweetgum for about 10 years.. and then.. after its first wave of gumballs ... i decided to be done with it .. lol .. luckily.. it committed suicide.. before i got there with the chainsaw ... it was a severe sunscald issue ...

so do the move.. learn how.. and if in 10 years or so.. its pissin you off.. get rid of it then ... IMHO ...

BTW.. if you are going to put up with a sweetgum.. invest in one of the variegated ones.. see link .. at least teh show is worth the gumballs ...

and.. finally.. crush a leaf.. and smell it.. its a very cool scent.. but rather ephemeral .. it wont last but a few seconds ... just roll a leaf in your hands.. as hard as you can crush it ... and let me know .... what you think the scent is ...


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   November 15, 2012 at 7:54AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

If I may point out the obvious: if you're moving something that was the weed seedling of a another tree...guess what? Your going to be dealing with many, many more weed seedlings in a few years. This is an incredible pet peeve of mine. Rural people (which may or may not characterize the OP, I'm speaking generally) seem to think any little weed tree seedling in their garden is a durn-tootin gift from gawd. Well, so are rats. That doesn't mean they should be fed, watered, and given free room and board. Some hayseed neighbor of mine lets them grow up near the power lines that feed our cluster of houses. Guess what blew over in hurricane Irene and caused us to be without power for 80 hours?

"Are you sure you want that sweetgum with its litter?"
Exactly. Not very nice to step on if you or a friend or relative are going barefoot. There are seedless cultivars if you really want such a wild tree in a garden.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 7:41AM
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brandon7 TN_zone(7)

It is true that non-wild tree produce less litter.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 9:11AM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

Oh come on, I can tell that's not a real tree...unlike these:

Here is a link that might be useful:

    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 2:03PM
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terrene(5b MA)

I would think now is a good time to transplant in MD, but in my experience Spring would be fine too. I moved a sweet gum last spring that was about 6 feet tall and 3/4" caliper. It was a National Arbor Day seedling, planted in 2006. Unlike many of their seedlings, it has thrived and proved to be cold hardy too, although as I recall the first winter it had some die back.

It did well over the summer after transplanting - even with a very dry July and perhaps some neglect (I was too busy to do diligent gardening this summer). As for the spikey balls, well I planted the tree in the back yard way over near the property line, where hopefully it will be out of the way...

Ditto for the Sugar maple, either season is fine. Last year the Acer saccharum here had a tremendous seed year. There were hundreds of seedlings in the gardens this spring. I refrained from weeding many seedlings to see what would grow, and actually selected one which has a natural crimson coloring to the leaf. I put it in a pot last spring, then transplanted it to a little bigger pot this fall, and will over-winter it in the garage just to be safe. It's doing fine too, but I would be careful with their roots, they are sensitive to root disturbance.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2012 at 7:30PM
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There was a funny post on here a while ago from someone who to put it mildly wasn't happy with the Sweetgum that a previous owner planted. He orShe was WAAAAAAAAY beyond unhappy. So if it was my yard I would avoid it anywhere near a walkway or frequently traversed area.

    Bookmark   November 18, 2012 at 9:13PM
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terrene(5b MA)

Well, I hope my little sweet gum tree is out of the way enough, so that it doesn't bother future owners. I took a look at it this morning, and the bark already has the interesting reptilian look to it.

I just read this about the tree at the (Lady Bird Johnson) website: "Plant only in spring as roots take 3-4 months to recover from the shock of transplanting." So maybe it would be best to wait until Spring.

Also, Liquidambar is a host tree for some large and beautiful moths - Luna and Promethea.

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 12:50AM
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terrene(5b MA)

Ooops that's

    Bookmark   November 19, 2012 at 2:12AM
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I don't have much to add about moving the trees. Fall is a good time to do it. I've done it many times. Usually I make cuts with the shovel straight down around the tree. With a tree an inch in diameter I'd probably make a circle of cuts about 2 feet away from the tree, a foot deep, then make a kind of trench outside those cuts, then slice under the tree. For the smaller maple, I'd probably start about 18 inches around the tree and do similar.

Except for male trees (for types that have male varieties), or trees that are special clones, all trees make seeds. I wish more people would find places to plant the seedlings that come up.

I wouldn't let people discourage you from keeping volunteer trees. So many nursery grown trees are clones, I worry that we are losing genetic diversity. Plus, a lot of nursery grown trees in containers tend to have girdling roots that I find hard to tease out. A local seedling is more likely to be locally adapted than a tree grown at a distant tree farm. I've grown seedling maples, ginkgos, oaks, honey locusts. It's a nice feeling to see them grow tall and strong.

    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 12:27PM
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arktrees(6b NW Arkansas)

hair, IMHO, move in the fall. I have planted in spring and fall, and almost without exception, fall plantings have done much much better than spring plantings. This includes Sugar Maple. We have two. One planted in the fall, the other in spring. The fall planted one did much much better the following summer.

Just my $0.02


    Bookmark   November 20, 2012 at 2:13PM
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Not to POO-POO the SWEETGUM to those who love it but it has some tough spikeballs, that's why I mentioned someone hadn't been happy to have inherited one in their yard.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 10:20PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

Well, the sweetgum seems to be a dud for fall color - 2 years in a row now. Last year, the leaves just tardily dropped off in early December, still green, and this year, they have mostly fallen, but other than a few slightly reddish leaves on the top of the central leader, the rest turned a muddy yellowish-chartreuse color and dropped off in a matter of a few days.

Perhaps its just that it's in mostly shade this time of year (it only gets full sun in summer from 11am to about 2pm when the sun is high in the sky). Or maybe it's just a which case, I may not want to keep it. The gumballs are annoying and only worth it if the tree is a stunner in fall, IMHO.

    Bookmark   November 21, 2012 at 11:13PM
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If it's not what you want, might be better not to keep it! It takes too long to grow a good sized tree, and if you regret the tree in 10 years, you have lost 10 years og growing something you would like better. Some sweetgums are quite beautiful, but maybe yours is not, or maybe your conditions do not promote the autumn color in sweetgums.

    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 11:56AM
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One must take into account the geographic locations of the various answers. I have no doubt that in the maritime PNW, where euko resides, there is an almost uninterrupted period for root development in the fall and most likely all the way through winter. Likewise, ark's experiences in his Arkansas home may differ significantly from what might be expected further north. I once planted some really nice Nordmann firs that I got at an end-of-the-year blowout sale. It was Nov. The roots were wound round and round inside the pots necessitating considerable cutting and straightening. Those trees did not make it or if they did, are now deformed little fir "shrubs". This was in a cold, Z4 location. So just saying, what works in one place may act differently elsewhere.


    Bookmark   November 23, 2012 at 12:26PM
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davidrt28 (zone 7)

wisconsitom, I think, generally, unless you're talking about Cape Cod zn 7, zn 7 is the cutoff point for this. If you're zn 7 or points south, plant in fall, unless you're planting something really tender and borderline. In zn 6 and points north, fall planting is probably still good for some things but it's more of a toss up and spring is often preferred.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2012 at 6:00PM
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