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The Best Time to Transplant Oak Trees

Timing is important when you transplant oak trees. Oaks are slow-growing and slow-rooting, which makes transplant timing all the more essential. Once established, oak trees can provide scenery and shade for many years.


Oak trees are difficult to transplant and often do not thrive after being moved. Ideally, plant oaks as seeds or seedlings on the site where you want them to stay. If you must transplant established trees, do so while the trees are still small. Oaks develop deep taproots that make them increasingly difficult to transplant as they mature.


Prune the roots of the tree three to six months before transplanting. Use a spade to cut off the roots 8 to 10 inches deep and 10 to 12 inches from the tree for every inch of trunk width. This allows new roots to begin growing. When the time comes to transplant, dig up the root ball 4 to 6 inches outside the original pruning to capture the new roots. The root ball should be one-half to two-thirds as deep as its width.

Time Frame

Always transplant oak trees in spring; the best time is usually February or March, but the exact time depends on where you live. Transplant the tree while it is still dormant, before buds start growing. Place the root ball in a hole that is more than wide enough to accommodate it; the hole should be no deeper than the root ball.

Oak Trees

Oak trees are in our poems, songs and legends. Oaks are part of the Quercus genus, and there are about 600 species. The Roman poet Virgil once wrote, “Full in the midst of his own strength he stands, stretching his brawny arms and leafy hands.” Red oaks have leaves with pointed lobes and small bristles at the tip. Black oak trees have smooth, gray bark and its leaves turn bright red in the fall. Willow oaks have thin, straight leaves, resembling those of a willow tree. Willow oaks grow 60 to 75 feet tall. These oaks prefer the warm, coastal Southeast, but they will grow inland in protected areas. Pin oaks make a nice shade tree. Acorns mature after a year, and these trees sprout soon after falling to the ground. Varieties include chinkapin, post oak, bur oak and white oak. But one day, it will be 50 feet high. This oak will be found further north and west than other oaks. Live oaks are often seen draped in Spanish moss and bring to mind images of southern weddings and historic small towns. Symptoms are most severe in dry summers because the bacterium blocks the water-conducting vessels that move water from the roots to the leaves. Leaves usually remain on the tree until they drop in the fall. Symptoms show on red, scarlet, black and pin oaks. It is spread by root grafts, so it affects trees in close proximity. Because of their size and longevity, oaks are symbols of honor, nobility and wisdom. Later, many parishes adopted an oak to be the Gospel Oak, and springtime ceremonies would take place beneath it. Plant oak trees where they’ll have a lot of room to grow. A good rule of thumb is to give an oak space to grow 80 feet tall and 80 feet wide. Most oaks can grow as far north as zones 4 and 5, and some varieties can grow in zone 3.

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