Transplanting Japanese maple

Asked March 29, 2017, 1:41 AM EDT

Hello! I am being gifted a beautiful Japanese maple that has been in the ground (in a wooden pot, but roots have grown through) for 12 years at a friend's house. I would love any tips and thoughts about how to transplant such a beautiful specimen and how to make sure it does okay at my house. I do not want to kill it!! At my house I could put it in a huge pot or in the ground, whatever is best. Thank you so much for your help and wisdom!

Multnomah County Oregon japanese maples

7 Responses

Thanks for your question! First, a couple back at you. How large is the container it's in now in the ground? How far out have the roots spread? How are you planning to remove it from its current environment? And what about your house? Do you have a spot large enough to accomodate the roots plus another 50% area? Is the place you'd plant it partially shaded? Once you get back to me, we can explore alternatives!

Thank you so much for your reply! The container it is in now is about 2' x 2'. It is made of vertical wooden planks that are falling apart in a few places. No roots are visible, so I'm just guessing they have spread to the ground. We were planning on putting a strap around the box that it's in, digging up any roots that are in the ground, and moving it like that. Then digging a big hole at my house. We do have plenty of space for a big hole- as big as is newded. The spot we were thinking is not super shaded but would get some shade in morning and evening.

We could choose a slightly different spot if needed.

Thank you you so much! Let me know what you think!!

Thank you for the additional information. I am very concerned about the ability of this plant to survive a transplant procedure. First, it is absolutely the wrong time of the year. Almost all plants should be transplanted in the fall, when they have just begun dormancy. This plant is undoubtedly just budding or, depending on how warm it has been, already has leaves.

Second, I'm concerned that you're not going to be able to get enough of the root ball, and that the tree is going to undergo shock once it's in the ground again. Japanese maples have a relatively shallow root system.

You have the information about the tree's size and health, and here's a link to a very thorough article about transplanting these magnificent plants. If you have any doubts about your ability to meet this author's suggestions, I recommend you consult with an arborist about moving it.

Hope this is helpful. Good luck!

Thank you so much for your help!! We went over to check on the tree and get more information. We were able to scoot the planter box it is in and tip it up slightly, so I think my fears of the roots growing into the ground were mostly unfounded. The pot is falling apart on the sides, so we are thinking we could transplant it into a bigger pot, then move that to our house.

And perhaps not plant it in the ground until fall at our house. Do you have any other recommendations at this point given this new information? I really appreciate your expertise.

Thanks for the update. If you're going to move it, I suggest you move it just once. That is, it is already going to have a shock from being removed from its present home. Planting it in a container, and then re-planting it in the fall is just going to add to its strain.

So, dig a hole in your yard twice as wide as the root ball that you'll be removing, and the same depth. (You don't want the root ball above the soil line; just even with it.) Water both the root ball and the hole well. Now is the time to add the low-nitrogen fertilizer, as the article I sent refers to. (Nitrogen is the first number you see on commercial fertilizer containers. Phosphorus is number two, and potassium is number three. Low nitrogen would mean numbers such as 5-10-10, or 2-5-5.)

Gently lower the root ball down, keeping as much of the soil hanging onto the roots, as well as the roots, as possible. Shovel the soil that you previously dug out back into the hole, tamp down gently, and water again.

Your tree will need to be watered throughout the summer and into the fall, especially if we have another summer as dry as last year! So monitor it more closely than you would established plants in your landscape. However, if you see that the water isn't percolating down (i.e., is forming pools of water that don't drain), slow down on the water. Also, if you see that the leaves are starting to wilt, that's a sure sign of a lack of water.

Since (hopefully, based on your observation of the roots) you won't be losing many of the roots, trimming/pruning the tree shouldn't be necessary. Of course, if you see any dead branches, now is the time to do that.

I hope this is helpful, and that you'll let me know how your tree fares! Good luck!

Hey Kristena, thank you so much for your advice. We opted not to move the tree. We found one corner of the wooden box had a huge amount of roots coming out of it. They were at least an inch in diameter and went very far/deep. Thank you for your advice -- I really appreciate knowing we shouldn't move it!

Hopefully the new owners of that house love it.

Much appreciated,

Jenny: I think that is a wise decision, and will undoubtedly bless both you and the new owners with good karma!