If I have an oak tree sapling that is 6 feet tall, 2" caliper, can I reasonably expect it to live if I try to

by Tom
transplant it with just a shovel and 55 year old back? I've dug out other oak tree saplings in my yard over the years and even the short ones had a tap root that went down about as deep as the tree was tall - 2' or more.
  8 answers
  • Bob and RodMan S Bob and RodMan S on Dec 07, 2011
    Now, Walter might need to correct me on this but if you take a look at balled trees at the nursery you will see that the root ball for a six foot tree is really not that large. Condider, too, those toppled oaks from storm time and I think you will observe that root depth - even for a large tree - is simply not that great. That 2' "tap root" on the smaller saplings you have dug is likely to be a fair indicator of depth of the primary root system on a much taller tree. As the tree matures the system increases in width much more than in depth.
  • Harold M Harold M on Dec 07, 2011
    Never had much luck transplanting. Its back breaking work because you have to dig such a big root ball. I'd say if your going to do it, you might want to talk to a nursery that has the right tools to do this. (Just a thought) Of course when you get the quote, you might find it cheaper to just plant a new one purchased from a nursery
  • Mike and Anne Mike and Anne on Dec 07, 2011
    Tom, I think the tap root and the other roots may give you a root ball that is too large for one person to move. Even root pruning now and moving next year would probably leave a plant that would be too heavy to lift out of a hole without "mechanical assistance.". You really don't have to have the entire length of the tap root for the tree to survive but even a 2' deep rootball and one wide enough to preserve the other roots is going to be more than a one-person job. If you have a small tractor you might be able to pull it out but I don't know it is worth the effort.
  • What kind of Oak? Water and Willow Oaks are not terribly difficult to move..White, Red, Pin Oaks almost impossible without a spade.
  • Walter Reeves Walter Reeves on Dec 08, 2011
    I have a 60 year old back.....and I'd buy one from a nursery before I'd gamble on transplanting one. The transplanted one will be slow to grow for a couple of years but the nursery one will likely grow rapidly if you water and mulch it.
  • Bob and RodMan S Bob and RodMan S on Dec 08, 2011
    Right on target, as always, Walter. But please give us the real story on the whole taproot idea. Do some trees actually retain a taproot of substantial size that actually helps anchor the tree or is the tree's stability almost always dependant on the health of a wide but shallow root system?
  • Rhonda G Rhonda G on Dec 08, 2011
    Is there a typo in the height on this tree? A 6ft sapling with a 2"caliper doesn't sound right. Our nursery has 2"caliper trees that are taller than 6ft. But still, if it's not 60'; you should be able to move it yourself. The depth of the planting hole should be as deep as the root ball; the width should be 2.5 x as wide as the root ball. You can root prune it now thoughout the season and move it next spring. The lateral root system is for support with feeder roots coming off that to sustain the tree's growth via feeding and watering. The biggest and most important thing when transplanting a tree is to keep the roots moist. Deep watering is essential to the survival of the tree. I also highly recommend using a starter fertilizer (one with a B1 vitamin and more phosphorous in the analysis). This helps to promote good root growth. Trees having varying root systems, obviously. Some being more shallow rooted than others. Notably, thin-needled evergreens have long taproots, but in my experience...that tap root is only as long or deep as the watering habits the tree obtained during it's growth. Again, deep watering is essential to tree survival. Transplant if you can and must, but have the hole ready beforehand. Best of luck to you.
  • Walter Reeves Walter Reeves on Dec 08, 2011
    Bob & Rod: your info is correct...trees have a vertical taproot when young but it rarely goes down more than 15" - 20", depending on the oxygen available in the soil. It's the wise root system that anchors a tree.