Tree moving and lifting

Now is the optimum time for moving trees as this season offers near-perfect conditions.

Perhaps, a few years ago, someone planted all those whips and small trees closely together with the idea they would shelter and "nurse" one another for a better chance of survival? (And it worked. But nobody removed any of the trees as they became established and grew. Now you have a group of splendid trees, but they are already crowding into each other.)

Or perhaps you have fine trees, or have a special tree, a rarity or from a commemorative planting, in the way of the plans for reshaping the ninth hole of a golf course or holding up the bulldozer about to start work on a new road or extend a building?

We are sometimes faced with the decision as to whether to remove or relocate trees - be it a case of better survival than is expected in that location, or that times have changed and now the wrong trees are in the wrong places. Where the trees are poor-quality or damaged, there may be little reason for trying to salvage them. Sometimes, however, the chainsaw wins because it is believed there is insufficient budget to move the trees - and anyway, it's easier.

But wait a minute. Check the value of that tree. Depending on the species, size and condition, one tree alone may be worth thousands. And you are about to order the chainsaw operator to deal with - how many?

The need to move trees from overcrowded groups, shelterbelts and woodland situations and the desire to save trees from development sites, along with the requirement to lift trees from nursery situations, has driven the market for tree-moving and transplanting businesses. There are several companies operating nationally and a number of contractors working on a regional or local basis to offer the service of relocating trees from what has become the "wrong" position to a new "right" position. And this season promises to be an excellent one for doing just that.

"It's going to be a very good season for moving trees," confirms Nature First company secretary Christine Bromage. "We have had the right weather in the summer and now it is quite dry so, particularly for places like golf courses, it will be great conditions for minimalising ground disturbance." Nature First operates nationally and has several tree spades, including a 1.6m truck-mounted spade. For larger trees, it brings in 2.5m and 3m tree spades from Germany.

At Ruskins, operations director Robert Wilkins agrees. "We prefer to move trees when the ground is relatively firm. We like cold, wet summers - this one has been a good one for trees - and as far as moving is concerned, we try to do as much as possible before the ground gets sodden in late autumn and winter," he says. Ruskins also operates a fleet of tree spades nationally and will bring in larger equipment from the Continent when necessary.

At the moment, Wilkins is planning the move of a 34-tonne pine to make way for the building of a new house.

It is important that soil conditions are just right, as tree spades complete with tree can weigh as much as 17 tonnes, which can be a problem if the ground is too damp. However, if conditions are too dry, it can present problems for the tree, which could be damaged in the move.

"Some sites, particularly in the East, are bone-dry at the moment," explains operations manager Alan Jones at Practicality Brown. "We may ask the client to water around the tree prior to moving it to ensure the spade eases into the ground. That way, the move is likely to be more successful and we can move more trees in a day."

A 1.5m tree spade can move trees with girths up to 30cm. With one fitted onto a Kramer loader machine, Practicality Brown is able to move between 30 and 60 trees a day, depending on conditions and distances. Meanwhile its 1.6m unit, on a Mercedes truck, handles trees with girths up to 60cm but can only move between eight and 16 a day.

Trees too large or inaccessible to a tree-spade machine can be relocated using the traditional "frame and crane" method, according to size, position and soil type. Jones explains: "This involves digging around the tree and fitting a special frame, which is then lifted by mobile crane, either to a nearby position or onto a lorry to transport the tree to its new position; there, it is then lifted off and replanted by crane."

Golf courses are one of the main customers for tree-moving contractors, along with development-site work. Struggling with the economic downturn, both sectors cut back on tree-moving activity last year, but this season is bringing more enquiries.

With many sites having near-perfect conditions as we go into this season, it would be a shame to postpone or cancel tree-moving projects this year. Added to this is the financial advantage of moving trees over purchasing large stock. Given the exchange rates, that advantage is even greater if the considered purchase were to be from a Continental nursery.

Transplanting can save as much as 90 per cent of the cost of a new tree.

"It has always been good to move trees as opposed to buying in big stock, but it is even better value at the moment due to the euro. The value of transplanting with hydraulic tree spades has been accentuated," confirms Wilkins.

Bromage agrees: "Tree-moving is an economic option for getting the right tree into the right place."

And with the ground in such good condition just now, why wait?



  • Plan it for a better chance of survival. For higher chances of success, move trees between November and March.
  • Use a reputable contractor if you do not have the equipment and experience.
  • Where trees are in groups, select the trees to be moved - choosing the best shapes and those that are easy to access. It is easier to move smaller trees.
  • Consider the species you are dealing with as some, such as Eucalyptus, hate being moved.
  • Assess the site and distance involved in the relocation.
  • Consider the rootball size and prepare the tree for the move. Reducing the size of the canopy will help compensate for the lack of roots, where no root-preparation work has been possible.
  • Prepare the pit and move the tree to it.
  • Secure the tree, make provision for water and mulch it.
  • Inspect it regularly.
  • Keep records of the species and size of the tree, preparation work, dates and equipment and materials used - you never know when the information may be useful in the future.


For nurseries, landscaping, golf courses, parks and gardens, Bobcat has launched a brand-new line of tree-transplanting attachments for its skid-steer, compact-tracked and all-wheel-steer loaders.

The attachments are available in several styles and sizes to work in a wide variety of soil conditions. They will be particularly useful for nursery applications such as balled and burlapped tree production, where high production and package quality are important. To reduce branch damage, the spades have a low profile, which should appeal to Christmas tree growers.

Controlled from inside the Bobcat's cab, the attachments have a compact, tower design that can squeeze between closely planted trees. Two forms are available: the ACD tree planters and the convertible tree transplanters.

ACD forms are designed for fingertip spade control and the switches on the loader's steering lever control the transplanter. The loader must be equipped with the seven-pin control kit available on the G-series. Convertible transplanters can be equipped with either a pendant-style control panel suitable for use on all Bobcat loader series or the seven-pin ACD control kit.

Within the two main formats there is a choice of three types of blade configuration - cone, truncated and modified styles - and a range of sizes. The cone-shaped unit can be used to prune roots and in its 30 degs format is suited to hardened soils. It is offered in five sizes up to 107cm. The 22 degs truncated spade is designed to give a large rootball and comes in four sizes up to 88cm. Modified tree spades can be used as a compromise between the two, have 25 degs angled blades and come in five sizes up to 107cm.


The importance of after-care and especially irrigation of newly-planted trees cannot be stressed enough. Now there is a new watering system, available from the maker of Platipus anchors, to help meet trees' requirements.

"Drought stress remains one of the biggest contributors to high mortality rates of transplanted trees in their first few years of establishment," explains Platipus tree care manager Ian Rotherham. "Water is vital for tree growth and sustainability. Lack of regular watering in the early years will cause irreparable damage to the trees."

During the summer, a 6cm-girth tree will typically require at least 30 litres of water per month, while a semi-mature tree, with a girth of 20cm or more, will need 300 litres of water per month. The use of a "targeted" irrigation that delivers water directly to the rootzone provides a huge benefit to the development of the tree, including the elimination of water run-off and the minimalisation of evaporation.

The new Piddler system from Platipus offers advantages over traditional systems, as Rotherham explains: "With some underground watering systems most of the water comes out in the pit underneath the point of entry, and you end up with uneven watering.

"With our system, the water is supplied in both directions all round the tree and percolates out of the sides of the walls of the pipe - seeping rather than trickling out - and waters all around the tree to a better standard and more uniform pattern."

The Piddler is priced to be competitive with other systems, but the big advantage for the landscaper is that it is easy to transport. "Often systems come in very large rolls that are difficult to transport," says Rotherham. "Ours is flat-packed and comes in boxes. Transport and storage is substantially reduced."

Installation has also been made easy: you do not need a hacksaw to cut it - a pair of scissors will do.


Firms offering a tree-relocation service nationwide include the following:

Civic Trees (Glendale, 01442 825401) has 40 years' experience and many hundreds of thousands of planted trees behind it. Services include the complete supply, plant, maintenance and guarantee, as well as site inspections, preparation, lifting, delivery and securing. Civic Trees has its own fleet of specially adapted trucks and tree spades. All trees are handled to strict BWS 4043 guidelines.

Nature First (01452 731131) is based in Gloucestershire and operates a comprehensive fleet of modern tree spades. Rootball sizes from 85cm up to 3m allow trees with girths up to 1.5m to be transplanted quickly. Larger trees can also be transplanted using specialist equipment designed by the company. As an Arboricultural Association-approved contractor, Nature First has in-house expertise to carry out surveys, reports and long-term management of existing trees.

Practicality Brown (01753 652022) of Iver, Buckingham, has tree-spade machines to transplant trees up to 1m in girth. Additional services include guying, feeding, anti-desiccant application, pruning, rootballing, installation of irrigation, tree preparation and a comprehensive after-care package. The company can also contract grow/store trees at its nursery.

Ruskins (01277 849990) is based in Essex but works nationally and uses a fleet of tree spades to move trees up to 2m in girth. The company is seeking accreditation for ISO 14001: 2004 and OHSAS 18001 to add to its ISO 9001 and Investors in People. Ruskins is a British Association of Landscape Contractors-approved contractor.

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