Tree Spade Operators' Care of Stock


Successful transplants are dependent mainly upon proper planting procedures and care. Distribution of nursery stock which is nonviable, mislabeled, or infested with plant pests, shall be deemed a violation of the Plant Protection and Plant Pest Act. Section 2-10,115. Nonviable plants are those not capable of germination or living and developing under normal growing conditions into a plant which would be typical in height, spread, caliper, dimension, condition, quality, and age of plant of that species. The following are guidelines for care of newly transplanted nursery stock.

Preparation of the Receiving Hole

  • The receiving hole should be as level as possible and an adequate size relative to the transplanted tree. The hole should be substantially wider than the root system of the tree or shrub to be planted. The hole should be narrower at the bottom than at the top and should be at least two feet wider than the root mass. Hole dimensions should be increased when planting in heavy or hard soils. The sides of planting holes in heavy or hard soils should be scarified so roots can penetrate into the adjacent soil.
  • Drainage is essential to the healthy restart of a newly transplanted tree. In areas with poor drainage, trees may be placed as much as two to four inches above the existing grade. This practice helps compensate for the poor drainage of the new environment, thus, giving the tree more time for root regrowth and adaption.

Digging the Tree

  • Before digging, make sure you are not moving too large of a tree. Tree spade manufacturing companies have guidelines on movement based on species and caliper of the tree. The American Standard for Nursery Stock is published by the American Nursery and Landscape Association.
  • The tree trunk should be located in the center of the transplanting unit prior to digging.
  • The lower limbs of the tree should be tied up to avoid damage, beginning toward the top and working down. The machine should clear all branches. This is particularly important on evergreens, as little pruning is done after transplant. Additional tying may be required after digging to allow for clearance during transport.
  • Summer transplant of fully leafed trees requires extra care, particularly during long moves under hot sun. Transpiration rates of leaves could possibly be reduced by covering the canopy with a tarp or by use of anti-dessicant sprays.
  • When digging trees, remove crushed, torn, or injured portions of roots with a sharp cut.
  • The soil used for backfill should not be too wet or too dry. All large stones or clods should be removed. If the soil which was removed from the planting hole is unsuitable for backfill, it should be mixed with a good soil.


Care After Transplanting

  • Transplanted trees should be relocated in the same direction relative to the sun as the original location. This will reduce the chance of sunscald. The routine use of tree wraps is not recommended. Tree wraps should be used only if the nursery guarantee requires it, if the tree species is known to be susceptible to winter sunscald damage on the trunk, and during the time that the tree is being transported and needs protection from mechanical damage. If used, wrap should be on the tree only during the first winter, and should be removed completely the following spring. Damage from rodents, mowers, and weed trimmers can be prevented by using plastic guards. Plastic guards should be monitored regularly and removed before rubbing or girdling problems occur.
  • "Staking" refers to single or multiple posts placed around the tree. "Guying" is the use of ropes or wires inclined at an angle from the tree to ground anchors. Staking and guying are used to prevent the newly planted tree from tipping over in the wind. Guying materials should be removed at the end of the first growing season to prevent trunk girdling. Staking and guying materials should be strong enough to provide support, but flexible enough to allow some movement. The old method of using guy wires and running the wires through old pieces of garden hose wrapped around the tree should be avoided. This has been shown to damage the tree trunk since the hose does not distribute the pressure created by tension on the wire.
  • The proper method to secure guy wires is to use a material with a broad surface at the point of contact with the tree through which metal grommets have been inserted. This will prevent damage from rubbing on the trunk. Examples of good guying materials include horticultural tape or canvas webbing that is at least 1 1/2 inches wide.
  • If the trees will be secured to stakes instead of guy wires, the same strapping can be used, but no grommets are needed. The strap is placed around the tree, crossed over, and then around the stake or post. Straps can be tacked or stapled on the out-facing side of the stake.
  • Don't stake and guy trees too rigidly. A certain amount of natural sway is needed.
  • As a general rule, trees with less than a three-inch caliper need only one stake on the windward side. Trees greater than three-inch calipers are best staked or guyed in two or three directions.
  • Use caution with chemical fertilizers, as excessive amounts will burn establishing tree roots. Fertilizer should not be applied during the first several growing seasons while the new roots are establishing themselves.
  • Newly transplanted trees require extra moisture to combat the stresses of transplanting. The soil around the newly transplanted tree should be watered thoroughly after the tree is set in place. The frequency of watering will depend on 1) the type of soil; 2) the size of the tree; and 3) the amount of rainfall. The water should soak into the ground slowly to allow it to moisten down to the roots. Check the depth of water penetration with a soil auger or by digging with a narrow spade. Inspect the plants regularly during the first three growing seasons to see if supplemental watering is needed. Generally, plants should receive the equivalent of one inch of rainfall per week from June to August.
  • Mulch away from the trunk with a 2-4 inch depth of organic matter to conserve soil moisture, reduce weed competition, and insulate roots from heat and cold extremes. The minimum diameter of the mulched area should be two feet. Keep mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunk to reduce chances of rodent injury.
  • It has long been a common practice to prune tops of newly transplanted trees to compensate for the root loss incurred during digging. It has been shown through research that top pruning newly transplanted trees can be damaging by removing potential carbohydrate (energy) reserves, possibly reducing chances of root regeneration. Only dead, dying, weak, or damaged branches should be removed. Evergreens do not normally require pruning after transplanting.


  • It is your responsibility as a tree spade operator to keep abreast of plant pest problems. Educate yourself as to plant problems concerning insects, diseases, environmental problems, wildlife damage, etc.
  • Examine any tree you are moving for the presence of plant pests and be on the particular lookout for Zimmerman pine moth, a destructive pest of pines.