Moving a large tree … feels good

June 25, 2012 — 33 Comments

Moving a tree isn’t something that a lot of people think about … which is a shame . We have a commercial job we are working one that has four really magnificent trees on site, the youngest is over a 100 years old and the oldest of the four is estimated to be over 150 years old. When I initially asked the arborist how this tree was he said they would have to cut it down to know for sure [right, tree humor…].

Of course the tree we needed to move was the oldest and the largest. We had originally done initial site studies where we designed the building around this tree – and we came up with some pretty good options. In the end, we asked the question “what if we moved the tree?” because the building would become considerably simpler in its massing if the tree wasn’t there. In the end, the cost to jog the building around the tree was estimated to be 4x the cost of moving the tree and nobody, and I mean nobody, wanted to cut this tree down.


Live oak tree in it's original location

This is the tree we ended up moving –  a 34″ caliper live oak with a tremendously large canopy. We brought in tree moving experts, an arbologist, and we had our landscape architect. We had loads of meeting discussing the success rate – what risks were involved, how the tree would be moved … and on and on. As it turns out, Live Oaks are incredibly hardy and the initial estimates for success (if everything went well) was 80% to 90% percent.

Based on those projections, the decision was made to move forward with the relocation of the tree.


the root ball

The root ball was dug out by hand with several tap roots carefully selected to help ease this transition period. There is a risk that the tree could go into shock so to mitigate the concerns, this first step of preparing the tree for relocation was to get it to this point and then leave it here for 4-6 weeks so that it would acclimate to this new condition.


the root ball

feeder roots from live oak tree

A close up look at the edge of the root ball. It’s hard to tell from this picture but this root ball is about 8-10 feet deep and 20′ across.


large crane relocating the tree

One thing that I am a little disappointed was that I missed a large chunk of the tree relocation – as much as I might like it, I don’t get to just stand around the job site watching other people work … I sit around the office and watch other people work. I also didn’t have my nice camera with me so every picture from here on out was taken with my cell phone – they are okay but there isn’t an aperture on my phone so a lot of these pictures are a little washed out.


lifting the tree into position

One the day the tree was moved, and once it was lunch time, I ran over to the project site and got these pictures. There were approximately 20 people on site working – crane operator, laborers, arborist, landscape architect and me – the architect. It was incredible to see this massive tree in the air – I missed the really big lift … at this point, the tree was being lifted and in out of the hole to get the elevation set properly. A small bobcat would drive down into the hole to move some dirt around so that the tree would sit properly.

.lifting the tree into position

This was a lot of trial and error because we weren’t just plunking the tree down into the hole – we were also rotating it and this was our chance to get the tree oriented so that it would dress the building without having to prune any of the really large branches.


lifting the tree into position

You can see some of the guys positioned around the tree with ropes – they are rotating the tree in the picture above.


lifting the tree into position

large crane relocating the tree

From this side you can see the ramp down to the bottom of the hole that the bobcat would use.


positioning the tree

A look at some of the guys positioning the tree. The tree and root ball weighed approximately 165,000 pounds so despite the tree being suspended from the crane, it took a lot of specific controlled effort to rotate this tree.


positioning and rotating the live oak tree

positioning and rotating the live oak tree

positioning and rotating the live oak tree

While I was taking these pictures, the foreman wasn’t real happy with me. There was some concern that one of the steel cables that was supporting the tree could snap and split me in half but I would zip in and out of the work zone to try to get some pictures – it isn’t every day that a tree like this one gets moved. (although if I had been split in half, it wouldn’t have been worth it…)


positioning and rotating the live oak tree

In this picture you can see the steel cables that are equally spaced around the root ball and go up through the canopy of the tree. I missed these getting located but I know it’s not easy to find a spot up that isn’t going to put pressure on or rub against the branches of the tree. The foremen on the job told me at one point that he had never had a tree move go so well – that because of the recent rain we had received, and the time since that rain, that the root ball stayed perfectly intact without any deformations. He also said that the tree didn’t appear to have ever gone into any sort of shock from the initial dig.


positioning cables through the canopy of the tree

A look up through the canopy. Most of the cables bypassed all the branches – there was only one branch that needed some protection from the cabling.


the edge of the root ball

A closeup look at the chain support system wrapped around the root ball. The largest gap I saw between one chain and the next was probably around 14″. You can start to get a sense of just how big this root ball is –


the edge of the root ball

mulching the root ball

I went back later in the day to se the final product – everything was graded out and the tree was covered in mulch. Those green bags (in case you didn’t know) are water bags that have just a few small holes punched in the bottom so that a small but steady stream of water is constantly watering the ground.


the final location for the tree

The final location of the tree. Once the building and parking lot get built, this tree will be adjacent to the building, located right at one of the entries into the parking area.


the live oak in it's final location

One the left-hand side of this picture you can se the dirt from where the tree was originally located compared to its new location – barely 60 feet away. I know everyone will want to know how much something like this cost – approximately $57,000. That fee was not just for relocating the tree but for its maintenance from the beginning of the initial pruning and preparing the root ball through water and pruning throughout the year until the project breaks ground. The reason we moved the tree now was it was the right time of year (for live oaks, that’s right after the new leaves come in and the wax coating on them hardens) and we wanted the tree to be well into reestablishing its root system before the job site construction begins.

I hope you enjoyed seeing a small portion of what goes into moving a tree of this size … mostly a lot of skill, planning, patience, and preparation.


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  • memsy

    Can you tell me what company moved the tree? We need to move some large trees on our property and I’d like to find someone who knows what they’re doing. Thanks!

  • Arne Oad

    Nice post, thanks! How’s tree healt now? Did you noticed any dry branches or leaves after relocation. How the tree looked 1-3 month after replanting and how it look now?

    • The tree looks like it was never moved and I don’t think a single leaf fell off.

  • gabby

    Thanks for sharing! Also thx for letting us know the costs. We have a giant Magnolia we need to move about the same amount of distance. Nice to know what to expect if we decide to keep it.

  • Thank you for posting this! What vehicle was used to transport the tree?

    • A giant crane – the tree was only moved +/- 70′ (you can see it starting in the 5th picture from the top)

  • Elizabeth

    Thanks, Bob!!! Loved the play by play of the tree move (the pictures are great). So glad you were able to save this beauty. I especially appreciate that you shared the price. I just bought a piece of property and am thinking about relocating several trees. Thank goodness they are only about 20 years old. 🙂 I was searching to try to get an idea on the cost of moving trees and found your article. As for the cost of your move, yes expensive, but the tree is priceless. Good job!!!!

  • Suzi

    Wonderful story! I cannot see where (state/city) this monumental job was accomplished? Can you share that information please? GREAT WORK!
    Are there updates on the health of this tree after two years?

    • We didn’t lose a leaf on that tree from the move or from the subsequent construction work on site.

  • mark parker

    great information you have shared thax for it.. now i will not worry about my big tree can move or not. i will surely do this process to move my big tree when i want to change my house. 🙂

    • Henry Williamsonn

      yes and it obvious that you felt good because after all it’s all about saving trees,, I recently recommend to my friends to take a tree transplanting service for his business areas ans Instant Shade Inc, have been provided best service

  • Great post thanks for sharing! So good to hear of companies who don’t just bulldoze everything in their path.

  • Angela Gerber

    Hello there. Just came across your blog as i was browsing and love it. (I married an Architect so they hold a special place in my heart). This post on moving the tree is fascinating. Can you tell me how the tree is doing now in its new location – almost 6 months later.

    • Hi Angela – the tree is doing wonderfully and I think anyone would be hard pressed to look at the tree and even tell that it had been relocated. I was on site one day and the landscape architect said that he had never seen a tree do so well, it didn’t appear to lose a single leaf from the stress normally associated with moving.

      Thanks for asking!

  • Hardwood Floor Medallions

    I don’t remember how I found your blog, but for the last two or three years I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. Each time my RSS reader would show your blog with new posts it would be one of the first I’d look at. Thanks for taking great pictures and sharing them with the world.

    • Thanks for taking the time to let me know that – I really appreciate it.


  • Robin Lourie

    I knew that trees of this size could be moved but I wasn’t familiar with the process or actual cost. Thank You so much for sharing.

  • Another Bob

    Amazing that this size tree was relocated, but placement next to the power lines means that the utility will come through and hack about 1/2 of that side of the tree off and disfigure or kill it….

    • those power lines will be relocated underground once the construction of the building actually begins – no worries 🙂

  • Wow! Thanks for posting Bob. A lot of good info to learn here. And it’s awesome to see engineering in action for nature.

  • This is amazing. I’m happy someone cared enough about this tree to save it like that.

  • up_today_ arch

    I even could not imagine that such work can be done! Thanks for info!

  • Anya Griffith

    Thank you for sharing the pictures and the article! Great Job!

  • architectrunnerguy

    And it DOES feel good!! On a “This Old House” episode a while back they moved a big tree like this. Ten years ago when they begin to build the underground Capitol Visitors Center in DC several large trees where moved, some with historical significance. They had root balls 20′ in diameter.
    Nice post (and the photos look fine!).

  • Great article and picture progress! I can only imagine. Did anyone happen to measure the diameter of the root ball? What tonnage of crane was required in this case?

  • Pursuit99

    Glad you weren’t stumped by this problem. Lovely outcome and wonderful to know the developer(s) felt strongly enough about saving the tree to absorb the costs.

  • It is always great to see a beautiful tree like that being saved. Are the power lines that the tree sits next to going to be removed or relocated. I hate to see tree pruned in half because of power lines. Makes me wonder why someone would plant a tree under the power lines.

  • Fran Hogan

    As a person who would like “rescuer of dogs and trees” in my epitaph, I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this article!

  • John

    When they positioned the tree, did they maintain ‘north’ on the tree? Meaning, was the way the tree grew in relation to north the same as when it was located?

  • Excellent! It seems far too often tree’s aren’t even considered part of the site constraints. They just end up getting hacked down. Limiting your options to building around it or moving it seems like the most respectable thing to do.

  • Elise Jones

    Bob, GREAT story and I am so happy the tree was salvaged and moved. What an interesting perspective of how it all went down too.

  • EnergyVanguard

    I applaud the huge effort and expense to save a beautiful, old tree! Of course, site plans that work around them are better, but you can’t always do that. I’m interested to see how well the tree fares after its relocation, so I hope you’ll provide occasional updates, Bob.

  • A ton of effort there, kudos to your team(and client) who paid such respect to nature. – Jashan.