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How to Transplant a Sycamore Tree

The American sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) is a tall, fast-growing tree that commonly reaches heights of 50 to 60 feet, but has the potential to reach 150 feet. The flaking bark of a sycamore is an eye-catching feature; however, its peeling bark, extremely large leaves (up to 10 inches wide) and seed heads make it a messy tree, unsuitable for many yards. It needs a deep, rich soil and is not drought-tolerant. Sycamore trees are easily transplanted.

Prune the roots at least one season (autumn or spring) before transplanting. Measure the thickness of the trunk stem and draw a circle around the stem 10 to 12 inches out for every 1 inch of stem thickness. For example, a 1-inch caliper (measurement of thickness taken roughly 6 inches above the ground) tree would have a circle diameter of 20 to 24 inches around the stem. Sink the blade of the digging spade as deep as possible all the way around the circle.

Dig up the tree one season after pruning the roots. Dig down a few inches outside of where the root-pruning trench was dug the previous season. Pry the roots and loosen the soil while digging down. It may help to moisten the soil the day before.

Slip under the roots with the shovel or use loppers to cut any roots that may be growing downward. The transplant should now be able to be moved to the new location.

Cover the roots with wet straw or wood chip mulch and wrap with a tarp or plastic sheet to keep them moist.

Dig a new hole no deeper than the measured depth of the sycamore transplant's mass of roots. Plant the sycamore in its new hole and make sure the uppermost roots are no deeper than the landscape surface. Complete filling in the hole with soil.

Water the area thoroughly and give the area 2 to 4 inches of mulch (do not put mulch directly against the stem). Water the sycamore consistently, sometimes every day depending on how hot the season is, the drainage of the soil and the size of the transplant. A hot, glaring sun and windy day is much more stressful to the newly established sycamore than a cool spring day. The soil should drain thoroughly between watering, but don't allow it to dry out completely.


Be sure the location you are transplanting to can handle a large tree. Look out for power lines and other features that may be affected over time.

Healthy, smaller trees are easier to transplant than large ones


Be cautious of underground utilities when digging large trees — know the locations of wires and pipes and call your local utilities if necessary.

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