Cedar Transplantability? Bare Root Transplant?


Young man on the go
Mar 6, 2005
Tomorrow afternoon I have to look at a cedar tree a Dr want's to move to his yard. He said the tree is 30' tall... we'll see.

Anywho, anyone have any experiance with cedars? If a tree spade isn't available, how about bare root transplanting using an air spade to excavate?
YES! Bare root it!!! FK the tree spade (me no likey)

The big consideration is moving the tree. I have picked up trees that are 30' tall by myself. (dead, dry things) But there are some 30' tall trees that weigh thousands of pounds. If you can move it, go for it.

The other consideration is site compatibility. You're dealing with a teenager of a tree, so it may or may not like the new soil, sun availability, etc. The goal here would be to recreate as much as you can in the new home what you had in the old.

Get as big of a root ball as he can afford!

I transplanted one about that size many years ago with a spade. It died within a few weeks, but that may have been due to neglect on the part of the homeowner. I'm not fond of tree spades either, and I try to avoid transplants.
I may have a chance to help with the boom winch on my bucket truck late Wednesday afternoon if I can get there before dark. I'm thinking that might not be possible unless I leave Tuesday night though.

Here's a smaller tree I moved with my truck last year. This one had about a 4' root ball.
He was in the middle of prep for new sod, that's why the yard is dead.
don't bare root it....get as much of a root ball as possible...good luck:D
"Hey, Doc...You called me because I'm reputable. I'm an honest Joe & I wouldn't steer you wrong. I can do this job with no guarantee, because I will do my level best to do it right and with the best workmanship that I can offer, but life has no true guarantees."
Sound familiar, Carl ?
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #8
The good thing is where it'll be planted is on the other side of the river where cedars are common (soil is better suited for them on that side, more pines on this side).

I'm confused though, Nick says bare root it, but get as big of a root ball as possible (I'm guessing you mean get as many roots as possible, sans dirt?). John says get as much dirt as possible.... How do I get dirt without using a spade? Excavator and drive beams under it?

We'll see how big the tree is, but I seriously doubt I'd get started on it before next week unless the doctor is in one helluva hurry ($$$$). Hopefully the tree is open grown because where he wants to put it would look funny with a 30' tree that was only 6" in diameter.

It'll be interesting, and of course, no guarantees.

What about time of the year? We're fully into spring flush now...

Time to do some reading :)
I hate to be a stickler but what is a Cedar down your way? Are we all talking about the same tree?

I have done bare root but nothing very large, root ball with big spade I have done as well, I would say it depends on soil type, in sandy soil I think the spade might work fine, in clay it glazes up the soil and can cause soil interface issues from what I have heard.

You could hand dig it, drum tie it (burlap and twine) and use a crane to lift the rootball depending on access.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #10
I seriously doubt we're talking about the same thing Paul as it's actually in the Juniper family and it aint called an Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus Virginiana) for nothin. Common names suck eh? :)

I was thinking of digging and burlaping or boxing the ball. How do I cut/shape the bottom of the ball? When burlapimg it?

Spades aint what you could call common down here. Only time I ever seen one in person was... never.

I don't think bare rooting a tree of the size I'm thinking it's going to be, will be very forgiving to getting plucked from the ground.
I dug more than a few trees in years past. Start by taking your tree spade (looks like a round shovel but it's heavier and flatter, with no lip on the top) and sharpen the cutting edge. Then go to your tree and mark the diameter of your root ball. Use the spade to cut the first 6"-8" deep . DO NOT PRY ON THE ROOT BALL WITH THE SHOVEL! You cut TO the root ball, not into it. Once you've circled the tree and have the first 6"-8" cut, then dig outside of that mark exposing the top of the root ball. Continue cutting TO the root ball and digging down outside of it until you have a cone shape that is almost as deep as it is wide. The roots you hit will help you determine how wide and how deep to go. When the bottom isless than 18" wide or so, you can use your spade to cut it off underneath. Then you can wrap it and pick it up out of the hole.

A sharp spade will easily cut roots over 1" diameter. A dull spade will beat you up and waste your time. Keep a large flat file handy and resharpen the spade every hour or so. ;)
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #12
Ha that sounds like it'll work, but I'm assuming the tree will be 6" or better at the base. I'd assume at some point the depth to width ratio would flatten out some?

The tree is on a 300 acre "farm." If I find a better suited tree I'll try and sway him in that direction although I'll figure out whatever size tree he wants to move within his budget, whatever that may be.
I may be wrong but I seem to remember a 'rule of thumb' is about 1' out from the trunk for every inch of trunk diameter. A 3" tree would optimally have about a 6' diameter root ball, although it usually ends up being a bit smaller than that. Anything over a 4" tree is going to need some decent size equipment.

Also, I've seen 3" oaks and 6" oaks transplanted in the same general area at the same time. 5 years later the 3" trees were as big or bigger than the 6" trees. The larger trees take a bigger hit from the transplant shock and take longer to recover, so moving a smaller tree can result in a bigger tree in the future.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #14
That's the same rule of thumb I've heard, 10"-12" per inch of caliper.

I'd also agree that smaller trees can surpass bigger trees.

Over about 10' of rootball and things will get interesting transportation wise.
Brian gives good advice. It also advisable to lift the tree by the root ball, not by the trunk, especially with larger root balls.
for larger rootballs I have dug a ditch around the tree then used the spade to undercut the rootball until it is basically sitting on a pedestal (pretty much what RJS said), then drum tie it with burlap and twine, fashion a sling of some sort to enable the crane to lift it up without causing more damage. I agree that the rule of thumb is about a foot of rootball diameter to inch of caliper.

here are a couple pics of one I did a few years ago with a HIAB, the crane guy didnt hear my request for him to not pull up on the chain, hence the chain was biting deep into the rootball. It did survive fine after transplanting though so in the end, all worked out. Japanese maple FWIW.


Slinging the root ball is good. I worked in a higher production nursury where they drilled a hole through the trunk and shoved a tire iron through the hole, then picked it up that way. After planting they stuck a wooden dowel in the hole and cut it off flush.

Smaller trees can be picked up by the trunk by wrapping tightly with burlap (or a towel) and then choking with a sling. Bark slippage is the enemy here, it will kill the tree if the bark slips badly.

Slinging the root ball will prevent the ball from falling apart though. They don't always hold together.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #19
But how do you sling it? I think I remember Nothern selling a sling made just for lifting smaller root balls. Cargo net could work, but getting it out from under the tree would be an immense pain I'd think.
agreed RJS, they dont hold together depending on the soil and root density. Another way I have seen used :shifty: is if there is a low, sturdy crotch on the tree is to wrap it with a number of burlap sheets as a cushion and rig a strap from the crotch to lift.

for a sling consider fashioning a couple of Kinedyne type straps or 4x4 tug straps around the rootball that leaves the 'eye's' at the top level enough to lift with. Around here I know of one landscaper that has a leather strap rig that is made just for that purpose, really cool rig but not for sale :(
his site:
You're overthinking it, Carl. Think of a production nursury where they have lots of trees getting dug, one after another. Low cost and fast is the trick. Wrap with burlap, use a few cheap nails to secure the burlap in place and use twine to wrap and tie it secure. Then cut a couple lengths of strap material off the roll, loop a strap under the ball and tie it in a loop. Turn 90 degrees and repeat.

When planting, most just leave the crap on the root ball although I don't agree. The straps can be removed by simply cutting them and pulling them out. The burlap can be cut as low as possible after setting the ball in the hole before backfilling.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #23
The Dr finally found some nice cedars to transplant on the property adjacent to his. In the first picture you can see his house in the background.

The bigger of the two trees is roughly 7" in caliper, the smaller being around 5". Hand shaping the ball doesn't seem like it'd be that big of a deal, cut with a shovel, clear away behind the the cut with the mini to get room to work.

Figuring on a root ball 7' in diameter and 3' thick beneath the tree, any figures on how much it'll weigh? The tree is roughly 17' tall, so I can't lift from above without a crane or making a frame to lift it. One thought we had was to use the tractor's front end loader, put as much of the ball in/on the bucket, tie the top off, then pick/roll it back onto the loader. The other idea was use a mini ex (3.5 ton) to excavate away from the shovel's cut, pick and move the tree, and dig the bigger portion of the new hole.

Any theories on a fair price or a way to go about pricing? Sorry for being such a newb, as far as I know, nothing like this has taken place in my area.

Open to any and all ideas related to moving the trees :)

Big tree on right:

Big tree on left:
LJ. if you can, tie the tree in, as in the green bits, start at the bottom and use half hitches like tieing a roast to get the branches under control and gussied up. Hand dig a decent rootball, burlap it as best as you can and figure some sort of a sling that you can lift out with the tractor bucket, if you have a hook or two welded to the tractor bucket it can make life easier. :)

FWIW, for rootball diameter I would consider going as wide as the canopy at the base, not necessarily the 1' to 1" rule of thumb.
  • Thread Starter Thread Starter
  • #25
The 1"=1' rule is roughly to the tips of the branches.

Tie the limbs in, folding them up, gotcha, good idea.

I can weld some hooks or a frame to the bucket, just gotta know what to do first. I thought about welding some forks on it, not sure yet though.

Any theories on a $ figure, even in your dollars will help me guestimate.