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.
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 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.
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.
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.
On 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.
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.
You can see some of the guys positioned around the tree with ropes – they are rotating the tree in the picture above.
From this side, you can see the ramp down to the bottom of the hole that the bobcat would use.
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.
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…)
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.
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.
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 –
I went back later in the day to see 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 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.
On the left-hand side of this picture, you can see 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.