Relocate and Transplant an Oak Tree

oak tree sapling in hands, ready for transplanting
  • 2-3 hours
  • Beginner
  • 0-50

Trees are a big part of the overall ecosystem for the planet and it is far better for the environment and for your property to move them, rather than cut them down. But it is not so easy to relocate and transplant an oak tree and if the tree gets too big, then the task is impossible.

When trees are small, it is possible to relocate and transplant an oak tree to a different part of your property. You will need to follow certain steps and use extreme care when handling the tree so that it will continue to grow strong and healthy.

Ideal Conditions for Transplanting an Oak

The best time to transplant an oak tree is between mid-December and late March, when the tree is dormant, but it is no easy task even at the right time of year. Transplants are most successful with trees that are only two or three years old and ideally, under three feet in height.

No matter when you transplant the tree, do so after the danger of frost has passed. This means you must wait until after early spring.

The pin oak and the red oak are the easiest types of oaks to transplant.

It's not likely that you will transport oak trees in exactly ideal conditions but no matter what you're working with, it is possible to move an oak tree and put it somewhere else if you're careful enough.

Are You Mightier than an Oak Tree?

Adult oak trees can grow up to 100 feet and live for 200 years, far longer than any human being. These trees are native to North America and many different varieties of oaks grow in the U.S.

Oak trees grow a complicated and huge root system that can be up to 90 feet long, which is incredibly intense. You must transplant oak trees while they are still long because even the most expert gardener magician on the planet could not transplant a fully-grown specimen and expect the tree to survive.

Only work with trees that are saplings. Otherwise, the tree is going to need to stay put or you will be forced to cut it down.

You can always plant a brand-new tree, if you find that you cannot move the tree you want to move and you must cut it down. Replacing every tree you cut down with a new tree is a good way to offset any environmental damage you've done by cutting down a tree.

How to Relocate and Transplant an Oak Tree

If you can, try to pick a day that is overcast but not rainy. Either way, you don't want complete this task under a burning sun on the hottest day of the year.

Choose a day that has mild weather, ideally, and wear head protection to shade your face and gardening gloves to shield your hands. Don't forget your bug spray and sunblock!

large oak tree with twisted branches

Pick a Tree

Make sure the tree you choose is healthy and shows no signs of damage. It should also be small enough that you believe you will be able to reasonably lift and move it by yourself.

While you can get help doing this task if you want to and by no means must you be physically able to do it alone, a tree that is smaller than you is small enough to transplant and has a decent survival rate so this is a good enough rule of thumb to go by as any.

Prepare the Transplant Site

Time is of the essence when it comes to transplanting an oak tree. As soon as you remove your tree from the ground, it needs to be transplanted, so have the transplant site ready to go before you start digging.

Choose a spot that will accommodate the size of a full-grown oak. It should not be close to any plumbing or electrical lines buried in the ground, nor too close to any buildings or to the driveway, or any walkways.

Remember about the oak tree root system? Think about this when you're selecting the transplant site.

Planting an oak near a street, sidewalk, or foundation is a bad idea. This can be damaging to the roots and even to the sidewalk or foundation. Oak trees have large root systems that extend even beyond their width.

You will need to dig a hole large enough and deep enough to accommodate the tree's root ball. Start with a hole that's about a foot deep and around two feet wide.

Once you actually get the tree up and see what you're working with, you will do a little more digging and modify the hole to make it the right size for the transplanted tree.

Dig Up the Tree

Digging up a tree, even a small one, is no small feat. Start by digging a trench around the tree about two feet deep and about two to three feet away from the trunk.

Slowly extend the trench towards the tree until you see evidence of roots. If the tree is very young, the roots may not have traveled very far.

You should be able to estimate the depth of the tap root (the main root at the center of the root ball) based on the tree's height. Tap roots are almost as long as the tree is high.

Be careful, as it is important not to break the tap root while digging out the tree. If the tap root is damaged, your oak tree may not survive.

Take the trench to the necessary depth and then start digging toward the tree, clearing away dirt as you move toward it and be careful not to damage the roots as much as you can.

At this point, you are mostly clearing out dirt rather than making a hole. Don't be aggressive, as the goal is to keep as many of the roots intact and whole as you possibly can.

In other words, avoid digging into the root ball. Continue to dig until you notice the tree start to lean.

Once the tree is clearly loosened, gently wiggle the tree in its hole to determine if it can be easily removed. Do not pull or jerk.

If the tree does not seem loose enough to remove, continue digging carefully and removing dirt around the roots of the tree. If you can maneuver a shovel under the tree, it is ready to be removed.

Wrap and Move the Tree

Lift the tree out of the trench a few inches. Try to capture as much of the root ball as possible and place it down in a wet burlap sack, which is available at garden and home stores.

Tie the sack around the trunk of the tree and carry it to the transplant site. Carefully set the tree down or have someone else hold the tree while you dig the hole to a depth and width that will accommodate the root ball.

Since you pre-dug the hole, this should not take you too long.

Plant the Tree

Untie the sack and gently lift the tree out of it to expose the roots again.

Place the tree into the hole you have prepared to make sure that the root ball is slightly below soil level and the soil line is at the same point on the trunk that it was in the original spot.

Build a platform of dug-up soil under the tree, and fill in the rest of the hole with the soil that you have worked. Tamp it down firmly yet carefully around the root ball using the shovel and your feet.

Water and Fertilize the Tree

Directly after planting, drench the soil with water. Wet it down very thoroughly, fully saturating the soil all around the tree.

Over the next few months, water the tree once or twice a week. A deep soak is much more beneficial than watering with a sprinkler.

To give the tree a deep soak, remove all attachments from the end of your hose, turn it on to a slow trickle, and leave the open end on your tree for 20 minutes or so.

Spread a layer of organic compost over the newly disturbed soil and work it into the first few inches using a trowel or garden claw. Make sure not to dig deep enough to disturb the roots and be cautious around the trunk of the tree so it will not be damaged, either.

Prop the Tree

There will be no growth in the tree or the root system until the spring, so the tree will have to be supported in case of high winds. Place two strong wooden stakes on either side of the trunk, each sunk about six inches into the ground.

Use gardening tape to fasten the tree to the stakes. If you use twine or rope instead of tape, the tree can't move at all and is much more prone to develop a shallow root system.

Gardening tape is flexible and allows the tree to move a healthy amount.

Prune and Protect

Use sharp pruning shears to prune off one to three lower branches of the tree. Transplanting is shocking to the tree's system and if you prune off some lower branches, the tree does not need to exert as much energy to survive.

Wrap the trunk of the tree to protect it against vermin and other gnawing animals. There are multiple types of tree guards you can choose for this.

Wire fencing wrapped around the stakes with the tree in the center offers good protection for the tree. You should also loosely wrap plastic or more wire fencing around the trunk to discourage animals from rubbing against the tree.

You do not need fertilizer or mulch around the tree. Fertilizer is not good for oak trees, as it triggers rapid periods of growth, and mulch around the trunk of the tree can cause rot.

Relocating and Transplanting an Oak Tree

If you're careful and do things the right way, relocating and transplanting an oak tree is possible. Keep an eye on your newly replanted tree over the next several weeks and once the tree begins to grow well on its own, you can remove the stakes and the protection around the tree.

With luck and care, the tree will thrive and grow tall and healthy on your property so that you can enjoy it for many years to come.

Oak Tree Transplant FAQs

oak tree in sunny field

Can you dig up and replant an oak tree?

You can absolutely dig up and replant an oak tree in a different spot, but only when the tree is still young. Oak trees grow very tall and have very deep roots so after a couple of years, they will get too difficult for anyone to successfully move and replant.

What is the best time of year to transplant an oak tree?

The perfect time to transplant an oak tree is when the tree has not yet started to grow for the spring but after the danger of frost has passed, which occurs within a pretty small window in most states.

Can you transplant a 10 foot oak tree?

If you want to move a 10 foot oak tree, forget about it. You might have to resign yourself to cutting the tree down or just let it be.

Oak trees can only be transplanted until they are, at most, eight feet tall. Otherwise, you will find the task to be extremely difficult and you are likely to do serious damage to the tree in the attempt.

How far down do oak tree roots go?

The taproot of the tree, the main root that must stay healthy in order for the tree to remain healthy, extends several feet down into the ground as the tree gets older. Most of the roots of the tree, however, are only about a foot and a half deep.

However, oak tree roots have a very wide spread and may extend far beyond the width of the crown of the tree.

How deep are the roots on an old oak tree?

Even on very old oak trees, which can live up to 200 years, most of the roots will not grow deeper than three feet under the ground. Tree roots stay close to the surface of the soil because they absorb the water that falls from the sky.

How do you take care of a newly transplanted oak tree?

During the first couple of weeks, transplanted oak trees must be watered regularly and deeply. They will also need to be protected from high winds and animal damage.

How often should I water a transplanted oak tree?

Water your transplanted oak every two to three days in the first two weeks.

What is the average lifespan of an oak tree?

There are many different species of oak trees, with most living to be around 100 to 200 years old. However, some species of oak trees can actually grow to be far older.

Some oak trees in California are thought to be more than 1,000 years old, which is mind-blowing. Water oaks, on the other hand, rarely live more than 50 years.'

There are more than 600 different species of oak trees and all have their own characteristics and lifespans.

Do oak tree roots regrow if cut?

While some tree species can grow back from their roots, oak trees cannot. Once cut down, an oak tree will not come back unless you plant a new acorn or sapling in its place.

What is the largest oak tree that can be transplanted?

Oak trees are best transplanted when they are under five feet tall but you can transplant an oak that is up to eight feet high.

How tall will an oak tree grow in 10 years?

In 10 years, an oak tree will grow about 12 to 15 feet under normal conditions.

What is the largest size a tree can be transplanted at?

While it is theoretically possible to transplant oak trees even once they are very large as long as the roots are kept intact, from a practical standpoint you really should not try to transplant an oak that has grown taller than eight feet.

This height indicates that the tree's taproot has grown so long, it will make transplantation very difficult.

Are oak trees deeply rooted?

The taproot of an oak tree can grow down as much as five feet deep. Digging a hole that eep is quite a chore, which is why it's best to transplant oaks when they are young.

How close can you dig next to an oak tree?

When you're transplanting an oak tree, you will need to dig all the way around it up to the base of the trunk. Most of the time, you don't want to dig holes too near an oak tree so as not to disturb the roots.

How do you dig up oak roots?

To dig up the roots of an oak tree, you must start by digging a trench in a wide circle around the tree. Dig down under the roots, around two feet, and then carefully dig to remove dirt from around the roots going all the way to the base of the trunk.

How long does it take for a tree to recover from transplant shock?

Trees are slow to recover from the shock of being transplanted. While trees can start to grow after they have been transplanted, it can take up to three years for them to fully recover from the shock.

Should I fertilize newly transplanted trees?

Oak trees should not be transplanted, as this can cause growth spurts that are ultimately unhealthy for the tree. Allow oak trees to grow steadily at their own pace.

Can you overwater a newly transplanted tree?

Though newly transplanted trees need a lot of water, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. You don't want to give the tree so much water that the roots drown.

In spring, trees need about one inch of water per week, which is about 10 to 15 minutes of deep watering every other day when there is no rainfall.

In the summer, trees need twice this amount of water, or about two inches per week.

In fall and winter, water the three five to 10 minutes three times a week in the absence of rain when the temperature is over 40 degrees. Once the temperature goes under 40 degrees, no water is needed.

Should I water a tree before transplanting?

You don't want to water trees before you dig them up, as this will only waterlog the soil and make it heavier to dig up and move. You should very deeply water the tree once it is transplanted into its new spot, however.

Can you overwater a new oak tree?

You can overwater a newly transplanted oak tree if you aren't careful. Even during the hottest part of the summer, trees don't need more than two inches of water per week.

Can oak trees be transplanted in summer?

While it is best to transplant oak trees in spring, it is possible to transplant them in the summer. However, the tree will need a lot of water during this season so you'll want to keep a close eye on it and make sure it's getting plenty of moisture.

Are oak trees high maintenance?

Oak trees are popular shade trees and are found often on residential properties because they are very low-maintenance trees. Once the tree is well-established and growing strong, it needs very little care and attention.

How big will an oak tree grow in 50 years?

There are hundreds of different species of oak trees, which grow to different overall heights at different rates. However, as a general rule, you can expect that oak trees will grow one to three feet per year.

In 50 years, a healthy oak tree will 50 feet high or taller. Depending on the species, it may be as high as 100 feet by that time.

What is the difference between an oak tree and a live oak tree?

Some species of oak trees are characterized as live oak trees. The southern live oak is one example.

These live oak trees look like other species of oak trees but there is one key difference: they do not lose their leaves in the fall. Live oaks keep their foliage, which makes them distinctly different from other species that are deciduous and lose their leaves every year.

Live oak trees only grow in the southern U.S., where climates are warm enough to sustain leaves year-round.

How big of a oak tree can be transplanted?

Oak tree roots grow very deep, so transplanting the tree involves a lot more tree than what is visible to the end. It is not advisable to attempt to transplant an oak tree that is more than eight feet tall.

Any taller than this, and you run a good chance of killing the tree rather than successfully moving it.

What is the average lifespan of oak tree?

Oak trees are long-living plants that will survive, on average, for about 100 to 300 years. Specific lifespans vary by different oak tree species but it's common for oaks to live a couple hundred years once they've reached maturity unless something happens to damage or destroy the tree.

Where is the best place to plant an oak tree?

Oak trees prefer full sunlight. Give the tree a nice, sunny spot and it will thrive.

You also want to keep the tree away from buildings and power lines. Do not plant it too close to the garage, shed, or other structures on your property.

To maximize the shading effect of an oak tree, plant it on the west or southwest side of your home.

How far away from the house should you plant an oak tree?

Oak trees can develop root spreads that are as wide at 120 feet. You want to keep it at least 15 feet away from your home and more if possible because the tree will also drop branches, which you don't want on your roof or in the gutters.

How deep to dig a hole for oak tree?

The depth at which you plant an oak tree is entirely dependent upon the tree. You want to bury it just deep enough to cover the top of the root ball, no more.

The top of the root ball should be level with the surface of the soil. The tree will settle into the soil over time, so you don't want to plant it any deeper than this.

Further Reading

5 Drought Tolerant Trees

5 Easy Shade Trees to Grow

7 Fast-Growing Shade Trees

7 Trees with Non-invasive Roots

12 Fast-Growing Trees

Easy Tree Trimming Guide

How to Transplant a Black Oak Sapling

Removing a Dead Limb from an Oak Tree

Transplanting a Magnolia Tree