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How to Transplant a Maple Tree

Maple trees are one of the most popular trees used for landscaping across the United States. They are known for their stately nature, adding wonderful shade in the hot summer months and beautiful springtime flowers. Maple trees can anchor a landscape with the larger varieties, such as the sugar maple, or you can add a breathtaking pop of color by planting the smaller varieties, such as a Japanese maple.

Sometimes, a maple tree may be planted in a location where it doesn’t thrive. Perhaps your Japanese maple was planted too close to the house or in a location that doesn’t get enough sun. Maybe your larger maple tree roots are causing damage to a building’s foundation, or it’s growing too close to power lines above. Whatever the cause, you may wonder how to transplant a maple tree. Our arborist experts at Mr. Tree list the steps below for how to transplant a maple tree.

Consider Tree Size and Safety Factors

Considering whether you can safely transplant a maple tree yourself without the help of arborists depends mainly on the size of the tree. If the tree above ground is large, it means the root ball below ground may be similarly large. In order for a tree to survive a transplant, it must be able to be moved while maintaining the integrity of its root system. Larger root balls may require large, heavy machinery to move, as roots can grow to spread as far as or farther than the tree’s crown. They can also grow many feet deep below ground. Not only would that be difficult to dig out, but the weight of the root ball could be hundreds of pounds.

For smaller maple tree varieties, such as the Japanese maple, you should be able to dig out the root ball successfully, especially if it has only been growing for a few years. However, even the smaller varieties can grow large root balls that are many feet deep and spread out wide enough to create a root ball as large as the crown above. Typically, if the tree trunk is less than one inch wide, it can be safely moved by a homeowner with some help. Anything larger, and you should consider contacting your arborist experts at Mr. Tree to help transplant your maple tree safely.

Consider the Age and Health of the Treemr-tree-how-to-transplant-a-maple-tree

As a tree ages, the root system spreads far and wide. For example, a healthy maple tree could have roots as large as 12 feet wide and 3 feet deep, which would cause a root ball to be much too large and heavy for a homeowner to move on their own.

Cutting the roots short isn’t an option either. This would inhibit the tree’s ability to gather nutrients and water from the ground due to the removal of the root tips. Root tips are the part of the root system that absorbs the water and nutrients from the ground to feed the trees. If you cut the root tips off, the tree can no longer sustain itself and will wither away and die. As the tree ages, the root tips spread farther out from the tree trunk. So the older the tree is, the larger its root ball will be. And that means more tree to dig up and move.

Moving a healthy tree is much less risky than moving a sick tree because, if the tree is sick, moving it can cause stress. Also, with a sick tree, the roots are more fragile and likely to break during the move. If a tree looks sickly on top, most likely the roots below are also sickly and fragile, and it may be best not to transplant it. The best age to move a healthy maple tree is under three years old and at no more than eight feet tall.

Pick a Dormant Time of Year to Transplant

Pick a time of year to transplant your maple tree when the tree is not budding. The best time of year is during the late winter or fall months. By moving the maple tree during these seasons, you can give the roots some time to establish themselves before the tree puts energy into producing leaves in the spring.

Pick Out a New Location

When picking out a new location for your maple tree, consider finding a place where your tree will thrive and won’t need to be moved again. Make sure there are no power lines above that it may interfere with. Also, make sure the tree isn’t placed too close to a building and that it has ample room to grow freely, both tall and wide. Maple trees enjoy partial shade or full sun. They are pretty hardy trees and do well in well-drained soil.

Steps to Transplant the Maple Tree

Now that you are confident you can safely move your tree and you have picked out an appropriate new location to plant your maple tree, it’s time to start digging. Below are the steps for how to transplant a maple tree.

  1. Water the maple tree three days prior to moving it to both soften the soil surrounding the root ball for easier digging and so that the roots will be drenched to help them not dry out during the transplant process.
  2. Dig a hole in the new location that is two to three times larger than the expected root ball.
  3. Dig around the root ball, approximately three feet out from the tree trunk, loosening the root ball as you dig by wedging the shovel under and around the root ball and pushing up as you dig down. You’ll need to dig down into the soil as deep as the tree is tall. For example, if the tree is eight feet tall, you will dig eight feet below ground. You can help loosen the root ball by moving the tree trunk back and forth.
  4. Plant the root ball in the freshly dug hole for its new location and push the dirt down around the base of the tree to remove any air pockets by the roots. Water the tree well and stake the tree on each side to secure it in place as the roots become established in its new location.
  5. Add mulch around the base of the tree to keep it moist and weed-free.
  6. After one month, it’s time to fertilize the tree. Don’t let the fertilizer touch the tree trunk. Water thoroughly to spread the fertilizer throughout the roots.


For a tree that is eight feet tall or larger, consider hiring a professional tree service, such as your arborist experts at Mr. Tree, to make sure the work is done safely. Please contact us if you have any questions.