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Question DetailsAsked on 5/31/2017

I need to transplant mature arbor vitae (7-12' tall) for 1 year temporarily. Can I use a raised bed?

We are doing construction and my lovely mature arbor vitae are in the way. I am trying to save 10 of them and they vary in height and maturity but have been in the same place for about 7 years. We had to move due to our project and I want to build a raised bed with new garden soil with nutrients.

I do not yet know the size of the root balls, as they are in a fairly narrow planting strip about 2' wide and 3.5' deep between the driveway retaining wall and raised sidewalk.

Is this a disaster waiting to happen, or could I have some luck if I build a 3' high by 7' long raised bed on top of the grass to temporarily cultivate these beauties for about a year? The plan is then to get them back after our construction is complete.

Additionally, it may not take a full year, so they may be in their "holding" home for about 6 months. I plan on doing this this week....ANY input is greatly appreciated! Thank you!

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2 Answers

Voted Best Answer

Fall is the normal transplant time for these, so you will definitely be stressing them, especially if they are already leafing out in your area.

You can find a lot of suggestions and instructions if you google this search phrase -

arbor vitae transplant

But if you want to really have these live, particularly since their roots undoubtedly are impacted along the retaining wall and go well under the sidewalk (so will be badly cut off during removal), I would contact a Tree Service company which does transplants as well as cutting, with a licensed arborist on board, to get it done right. For that size tree this sounds like a job for (after getting utility locates) a tree clamshell backhoe (aka tree spade), which cuts out and lifts the root ball all in one action and can then transport it to a new location - on youyr property, or sometimes they are transported to the tree company's tree farm and put into an existing hole there during the construction, then brought back - avoiding having to build a temporary bed for them on your property.

Also - a raised bed on top of grass - sounds, unless about 3-4 or more feet thick, as too thin to properly support the trees and keep the roots thriving. And each tree is likely to need a minimum 3-4 foot rootball to survive - so 10 of them sounds like a 4-5 foot wide by 30-40 foot long strip, not 7 feet. Sometimes - especially for 6 months (not overwinter too) just rootballing them and standing them up side by side in a couple of rows and burying the balls in topsoil and watering well periodically might do for that period of time - sort of like toeing them in but for a longer time, and of course upright so they do not start growing at an angel to the trunk. Still, takes digging and rootballing them, and probably about 5-10 CY of dirt to encapsulate the balls.

Of course, you will have to consider the cost - probably in the range of at least $1000-3000 to professionally transplant these (plus more to move them back), so consider that cost (or tremendous labor on your part) versus what they are worth to you, and whether they grow like weeds in your area so are pretty easily replaced with new ones instead. Certainly cheaper to replace with new ones after construction if that is acceptable, otherwise I would recommend finding a new home for them so the transplant is done once, not twice - better for the trres and the pocketbook.

Also - you say hopefully not more than 6 months - what happens if it runs 12-18-24 months ? Temporary storage would likely not work well for that period, so I would say either sacrifice them and start anew afterwards (which even with 3-5 foot trees will likely be a lot cheaper than moving them, and they should max out to same height in a few more years) or transplant somewhere else in the yard right now - permanently.

One other consideration - you don't say what effect these have had so far on the retaining wall and walk, but in the long run their roots are pretty likely to wreck havoc on the sidewalk and on any retaining wall that is not solid concrete, so might be best to get them out of there now and replace with something like a ground-spreading juniper or flowers or such.

Answered 1 year ago by LCD


Hi LCD, thank you very much for your comprehensive and thoughtful reply! This is my first time posting, so hopefully this is the right place to reply with thanks!

Answered 1 year ago by charlottew


Yes Charlotte, that is the correct way to respond back to an answer, or to post additional information on your question - that way any back-and-forth about your question stays in the same "thread" - listed under the same question.

For trees that are easy to grow in a tree farm (and yours certainly are near the top of the easy-to-grow category), even on large commercial jobs where a large number of trees are being looked at to save, the cost of temporarily transplanting trees over about up to about 8 feet tall and then replantiing them some months down the road commonly exceeds the cost of just buying new ones to plant after the job is done - so if you cannot find a new permanent place to plant them now, I think after you talk to a few nurseries about the temporary transplant and replant, and with the realization (especially with the tight conditions between retaining wall and sidewalk so you will be getting a VERY small root ball) so you might lose a few or if weather conditions do not cooperate or you forget to water for a week or two you might even potentially lose them all after that expense - especially if you end up with it being a year rather than a few months, I suspect writing those off (or transplanting permanently now elsewhere as a new tree line) will be the best solution.

One other thing to consider with the existing tree removal - what are the chances that the removal will damage or cause settlement of the sidewalk or retaining wall (unless those are coming out as part of the construction) - that might tend to drive you toward just cutting them down and discarding, and going with new after construction is done.

Quick price check - looks like a 6-7 foot balled commonly available variety arbor vitae tree runs about $150, 10-12' balled about $250-300 delivered (in your quantity) for free, so probably about (in your quantity) an additional $50/tree to plant them for you, you would be looking at about $2000-3500 range for ten of them installed after the construction is done. You might but I can't see you being very likely to get temporary removal ofthe existing trees, placement in a temporary bed (including probably $1000+ of topsoil for that), then transplant again after construction and remove the topsoil transplant bed (or move it to another place you can use it) for anywhere near that amount.

Consider also - the root coverage for a tree is at least equal to the diameter of the tree branches and commonly double that or more, so your location sounds mighty confining for that height tree - and the roots as a tree mature would potentially pose a risk not only to the retaining wall (if not solid concrete) but also to your house foundation - the larger (under the tree crown) roots can do major damage to house foundations - both shallow concrete ones, and any height concrete block / cinder block or stone ones.

Your species is far from the worst for this, but ideally no tree or large bush should be within about 6-10 feet of a foundation or drive or sidewalk, and no large tree with substantial roots (normal shaped trees, especially hardwoods which tend to have larger spreader roots) should (ideally) be within about 30-40 feet of a foundation or paving. I have worked on probably at least 40 jobs where foundation cracking / leakage was caused by tree or large shrub roots (lilacs and rhododendrons and azaleas especially - though maybe those are especially noteworthy only because they are so commonly planted alongside houses) getting at the foundation and damaging it.

Good luck with your construction - note FYI you can access lots of previous questions with answers about construction issues, some ballpark, costs, etc in the subject links below Browse Projects, at lower left.

Answered 1 year ago by LCD

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