Tree lifting, moving and planting

Successful relocations can see even big trees flourish while costing less than buying new stock, says Sally Drury.

Planting and relocating: Glendale Civic Trees upbeat about the forthcoming season
Planting and relocating: Glendale Civic Trees upbeat about the forthcoming season

With climate change, pests and diseases, you could say that trees are in enough trouble. The last thing a healthy tree needs is to find itself at the centre of a proposed development — in the way of a new office or housing estate. Thankfully, there are firms that, using the right equipment and with skill and a little patience, can move big trees to a site of safety where they can once again flourish. Moving big trees can also save money over buying in new stock.

"There are a number of reasons clients want a tree moved to a new location," says Glendale Civic Trees sales manager Deric Newman. "It might be that the tree is in the way of something, such as a building, or it could be better used elsewhere. This winter, for example, we will be moving a 120cm-girth Fagus from a central location to a position on the boundary to clear space for a new block of flats in south London."

That particular tree will be moved using the Newman Frame, a method developed by Civic Trees back in the 1960s that is suitable for projects where a tree spade is impractical.

There are other reasons for moving trees, Newman explains: "Other times clients are looking to repurpose their trees — especially those grown in shelter belt or woodland planting schemes — possibly for screening or simply to add some interest to the landscape."

Relocating crowded stock

Established in 2014, The Tree & Hedge Co in Gloucestershire now has three operational landscape teams and has been busy planting semi-mature trees, instant hedges and privacy screening as well as moving trees. Managing director Alan Jones says landowners and golf courses like to relocate crowded stock, while developers sometimes have to move existing trees to suitable locations within their sites.

"In most situations we find people are reluctant to kill trees, especially healthy trees," he adds. "And, when there is a possibility of moving a large number of trees, the reason is obvious — the cost of the tree spade hire to transplant the trees is cheaper than buying in new trees."

The saving can be considerable. Ruskins Trees & Landscapes, owner of the Stocker 8 2.16m tree spade — the largest in the UK — says that by moving trees clients can save 90 per cent of the cost of supplying and planting the same trees.

At The Tree & Hedge Co the machine of choice is a 1.1m optimal tree spade mounted on a JCB telehandler. It is capable of moving trees with girths up to 30cm in diameter. During the past 12 months it has been used to carry out work on golf courses and construction sites as well as in private gardens and estates. "Bringing these projects to a successful conclusion has demanded a scrupulous approach to lifting, moving and replanting," says Jones.

One project involved creating a walk-through mature woodland in a large private garden in Buckinghamshire. "To begin, we needed to thin out the trees and shrubs to let in light where some new planting was taking place. Some existing trees needed to be moved where the path was being constructed and our tree spade successfully made 39 transplants."

In another scheme, The Tree & Hedge Co was contacted by a landscape architect practice working on a large new-build site in Hampshire. The company’s specialist team, trained in the safe handling of large trees, crane lifted a selection of plants including 70cm-girth beech trees weighing 2.5 tonnes each. 

On a private estate in Berkshire, where a new spur road was being constructed, the company lifted and transplanted 28 trees from the construction site to other parts of the grounds where they are now being monitored and maintained by the gardener. "It’s always good when an opportunity presents itself to save trees from the chainsaw," says Jones.

Golf course operations

An ongoing project for The Tree & Hedge Co is tree moving on a golf course near Henley in Oxfordshire. The course is being redesigned and the company has so far had a transplanting success rate of more than 90 per cent. "During some of the lifts the soil didn’t hold as well around the roots as we would have liked," says Jones. "But, due to a good aftercare maintenance plan, most have survived."

In a variation to the way it would usually operate, Glendale Civic Trees has been removing trees from the parkland of an East Anglian estate and created a screen at the rear of a property near to where neighbours have recently built a new house. The company has also thinned out an avenue of platanus lining a drive leading to a country house, removing every other tree and repositioning them in a new line further back to create a double, staggered row effect.

"This has resulted in the trees being given a new lease of life, as they were originally planted too close together but will now be afforded the room to grow, develop and become stronger," Newman points out.

But one of Glendale Civic Trees’ most significant projects delivered in the past 12 months was the relocation of a large English oak tree, Quercus robor, in Berkshire. "This particular project required a lot of forward planning due to the tree’s location close to a listed building," says Newman. "Liaising with the landscape designer, we ensured the smooth transplanting of the tree."

Forward planning and communication with all involved are key to successful tree moving, especially if maximum use is to be made of a tree spade hire by multiple transplants. If trees can be prepared a season in advance of the move, success rates are often boosted.

But be quick. Tree-moving firms are taking bookings for next season and look set to be busy, again. "We have had a good year and, although the effects of Brexit — when we finally cut our ties with Europe — are unknown, money is still available in businesses and the private sector. We are very positive and looking forward to working hard during the planting season," says Jones.

"We already have work booked in for the new season and enquiries are regular and ongoing. We have also had our fair share of work during the summer, planting container-grown trees, instant hedges and shrubs. Screening with evergreen trees and instant hedges continues to be popular in the UK."

More repeat business

Glendale Civic Trees is also upbeat about the forthcoming season in terms of both planting and relocating. "We’ve experienced an increase in repeat business for our tree spades, both on sites we’ve worked on previously and new sites clients want to look at," says Newman. "Repeat business is a result of one important factor — getting the job done well the first time, which is why referrals are so rewarding."

According to Newman, another factor behind Glendale Civic Trees’ forward order book looking healthy is that people are becoming increasingly inspired by visuals they see in the media, be it on a social channel or in lifestyle magazines. The company is also regularly enlisted by clients, designers and estate managers who have bought trees directly from a nursery but require specialists to plant them.

Looking even further into the future, Glendale Civic Trees is working on developing its tree spades to encompass features new to the UK market. It has also employed a new landscape supervisor to strengthen the level of service and increase involvement with the planning and design process from the very beginning of a project.

Essential advice for successful relocation

? Engage a specialist tree-moving company as early as possible. Preparation work may need to begin a full season in advance of the move.
? Ensure that the root ball is of adequate size.
? "If the ground around the trees is dry and hard, watering will speed up the operation when using a tree spade machine," says The Tree & Hedge Co managing director Alan Jones. "If the ground is wet and the work needs to proceed quickly, tracks can be laid. However, waiting until the ground dries is by far the best option."
? Carefully plan access routes and check that overhanging branches will not hinder work.
? On many tree species, crown reduction will reduce the amount of stress when transplanting.
? Guying the relocated tree will help to support and stabilise it while the roots re-establish.
? Protect the newly planted tree from adverse weather conditions.
? "Aftercare is incredibly important in ensuring a successful move, including pruning the tree when it is in its new location," points out Glendale Civic Trees sales manager Deric Newman. "Sufficient maintenance should be provided for approximately three years following relocation — a strict process of water, feed, weed and repeat."

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