The lone voice of horticultural reason

“Free trees or shrubs that I can dig and move to my yard are a good deal”

 Just when I start having a tough time coming up with a new myth for this portion of the site, my e-mails come to the rescue. In the last three weeks I’ve had three or four comrades inquire about how to move some trees a friend has on some piece of property, free for the digging.

In nearly every case, my advice is, don’t. Trees hate to be dug and moved.

Very often, trees will not survive the transplant. If you are going to dig them with a shovel, it’s going to be a lot of work, the root ball is going to collapse, you are going to plant the thing and three years down the road, it’ll die. You are nearly always better off going to the nursery and buying a fresh, new, potted or BB (ball and burlap) tree.

Then today on the radio I was listening to one of those garden call-in shows, and the caller described some 10′ lilac bushes that were his, free for the digging. He wanted about ten of them. The garden expert on the show wisely explained the facts. A 10′ lilac? The only way to dig it up is to wind up with a root ball that will weigh about 300 pounds. Digging up one mature lilac bush will take you three hours. All of a sudden, the next nine you had in mind to dig start looking a little less desirable.

You can buy a new lilac bush for thirty bucks. And get the color bloom you want, in a newer variety that is probably superior in terms of disease resistance.

With trees, people inquire about hiring a professional tree spade contractor to come in and do the work. Sometimes e-mailers want to know if that’s a good way to move a tree they like from one part of their yard to another.

A tree spade rig tears the heck out of your yard. It’s expensive. There is no guarantee the tree will live. Often, for the same amount of money, you can buy a new tree, perhaps smaller, but it will grow so much quicker than a mature tree that’s been uprooted, that in five years it will be a better looking specimen than the tree you moved. Had it lived.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener