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How to Transplant a Magnolia Tree

magnolia image by corinne matusiak from

Magnolia trees are one of the iconic trees of the American South, due to the way that they thrive in the warm, humid atmosphere and clay soil of Southern landscapes. The trees are known for oval-shaped leaves with a glossy texture and large flower buds with leathery petals. Some magnolias are evergreen while others are deciduous. Most produce blossoms in spring or summer. Because the root system of magnolias spreads farther than other trees, transplanting magnolia trees is often difficult.

Select a small magnolia tree for transplant. Smaller trees will have a less developed root system. Your chances of transplanting smaller magnolia trees successfully is greater. Use a pair of calipers to measure the trunk of a magnolia at chest height. Select trees with a trunk less than 4 inches in diameter for transplant.

Insert a spade into the ground in a circle around your magnolia tree just outside the drip line to root prune the tree. Root pruning the tree shortens the roots and encourages them to branch and divide. This will help the tree endure transplant shock.

Wait one year before transplanting your tree to allow the magnolia roots to develop.

Time your transplanting of the tree for winter or early spring while the tree is dormant.

Insert a shovel into the ground in a circle around the root ball 3 inches outside of the point that you root pruned your tree. Slide the shovel under the root ball and tilt backward to lift the tree from the ground.

Place one hand on the trunk of the tree and another under the root ball. Lift the tree out of the planting hole and place it on a square of burlap. Wrap the root ball to preserve as much soil as you can and tie it around the trunk with twine. Lift the tree into a wheelbarrow and wheel it to a new location for transplant.

Break up the ground over the transplant area with a rototiller and spread organic material such as compost and manure over the area in a 3-inch-deep layer. Turn the amendments into the soil with the rototiller. Amend the soil in a wide area, not just your planting hole, to avoid a container effect, and instead encourage the roots to spread as they grow.

Dig a planting hole that is slightly wider than the root ball but no deeper. Place the tree in the hole and fill in the sides with soil. Cover the root ball with no more than 2 inches of soil. Mulch with wood chips or straw to help hold in moisture and crowd out grass that could steal nutrients from the soil.

Water frequently to help roots become established. Your soil should remain as damp as a wrung-out sponge.

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