Redbuds have colorful new growth in spring and brilliant yellow foliage in fall.

How to Transplant a Redbud Tree

by Brian Barth

The native redbud tree (Cercis spp.) grows in both eastern and western forests, lighting up the landscape each spring with showy pink blossoms on its bare branches. Depending on the variety, redbuds grow in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9, and thrive in both hot, dry sites and moist, partially shaded locations. They are an easy flowering tree to establish and care for, growing in almost any soil as long as it is well-draining. Transplant redbuds in late winter when they are still dormant, and preserve as much of the taproot as possible to ensure success.

1 Slice down into the soil around the redbud to cut through the lateral roots growing near the surface of the soil. For tiny seedlings, a circle with a 6-inch radius around the trunk is sufficient. For a 6-foot tree, a circle with an 18-inch radius from the trunk is needed.

2 Pry up on the shovel to loosen the soil around the roots, working gently to avoid breaking the small roots.

3 Loosen the soil further with a hand trowel, and begin to remove the soil around the trunk and the main lateral roots. Large roots can be completely exposed, but try to preserve the soil that clings to the smaller fibrous roots. The majority of soil needs to be removed to a depth of at least 8 inches to begin working on the taproot.

4 Slice down into the subsoil under the lateral roots with a spade, making a circle around the taproot.

5 Pry up very gently on all sides of the taproot to loosen the soil and see if the taproot comes free without breaking. If not, remove the soil around the taproot with a trowel until it is exposed an additional 6 to 8 inches, then pry up on it again with the spade. If it does not come out at this point, use the spade to cut it as deep as possible below the soil.

6 Remove the tree, and transport it to the new location immediately. For larger redbuds, slide a tarp or sheet of burlap under the root mass and have one person lift each of the four corners to carry the tree to its new location. Redbuds need at least four hours of sun per day, and grow to about 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide, so plan accordingly. Avoid planting in locations where water collects after a rain.

7 Dig a hole about 50 percent wider and to the same depth as the root mass of the excavated redbud.

8 Stand the tree up straight in the hole, and begin to backfill soil around the roots, breaking up any heavy clods in the process. Carefully pack soil around all the roots to be sure no air pockets remain. The crown of the roots should be at the same level as the surrounding soil.

9 Water thoroughly until bubbles stop coming to the surface, indicating that all air pockets have been filled. Spread a 1-inch layer of compost over the root zone, and an additional 2 or 4 inches of mulch to conserve moisture and suppress weed growth. Water whenever the top inch of soil is dry during the first growing season to successfully establish the redbud in its new location. One inch of water per week -- whether from irrigation or precipitation -- is sufficient for the redbud to become established

Items you will need

  • Garden spade
  • Plastic tarp or sheet of burlap
  • Trowel
  • Hand pruners

Tips

  • Seek help from a professional arborist or landscape company for transplanting redbuds greater then 6 feet in height.
  • Prune off any lower branches that make it difficult to access the soil around the trunk. Cut them back flush to the trunk.
  • Redbuds that were planted from containers are unlikely to have much of a taproot, making them much easier to transplant than saplings that have established naturally.

About the Author

Brian Barth works in the fields of landscape architecture and urban planning and is co-founder of Urban Agriculture, Inc., an Atlanta-based design firm where he is head environmental consultant. He holds a Master's Degree in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. His blog, Food for Thought, explores the themes of land use, urban agriculture, and environmental literacy.

Photo Credits

  • Ryan McVay/Lifesize/Getty Images