Black walnuts have excellent flavor, though it is the English walnut that is found in supermarkets.

How to Transplant a Young Black Walnut Tree in the Fall

by Brian Barth

Black walnut trees (Juglans nigra) are a magnet for family gatherings in autumn, when the delicious nuts they drop are treasures for children to help gather from under a blanket of golden leaves. These beautiful native trees are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 4 through 9. You can propagate black walnut trees by transplanting seedlings growing under a mature tree to a site where they will have the space they need to thrive. This can be a learning activity for children, but great care is needed to avoid damaging the long taproot.

Excavating the Taproot

Water the ground thoroughly around the walnut seedling the day before you plan to move it, if the soil is not already moist.

Slice vertically through the top layer of soil to a depth of 6 or 8 inches, forming a ring about 6 inches from the trunk of the young tree. Do not pry upward with the shovel or remove any soil at this point.

Continue to loosen and remove soil from around the upper lateral roots with a trowel, being careful not to damage the vertical taproot. The goal is to remove all the soil in a 6-inch radius around the taproot to depth of at least 6 inches.

Fill the hole with water, and allow it to percolate before slicing further into the soil.

Slice vertically with the spade shovel into the soil in a ring around the taproot at the bottom of the hole. Form a complete ring by slicing into the soil, but do not remove any more soil at this time.

Gently begin to pry up on the taproot with the shovel from all sides. Pry a little bit at a time on all sides of the hole until the taproot is free.


Dig a hole in the new location to the depth of the excavated taproot, and as wide as the spread of any lateral roots.

Hold the seedling in the center of the hole so that the crown of the roots is even with the surrounding soil level and begin to backfill the soil into the hole. Be sure to break up any heavy clods of soil in the process. Carefully tamp the soil around the roots by hand to eliminate air pockets.

Apply a 1-inch layer of compost over the root zone, and cover with 1 to 2 inches of mulch to protect the soil. Water thoroughly.

Items you will need

  • Spade shovel
  • Trowel
  • Compost
  • Mulch


  • If the entire taproot does not slide out of the moist soil with gentle prying, continue to excavate with a trowel to expose more of the taproot. Continue excavating and prying gently until the root comes free.


  • Think carefully about where to plant a black walnut. The tree can eventually reach 70 feet tall and wide. They have very strong wood and root systems that make them resistant to storm damage, but they do suffer from a long list of pests and disease.
  • Black walnut roots put toxic chemicals into the soil that inhibit the growth of lawn grasses, some garden vegetables, and many other plants you might like to have in the landscape. The trees grow wonderfully in a wooded setting, but planting them near your house will limit what else can be grown in the vicinity as they mature.
  • Do not plant black walnuts where they will hang over over streets, parking areas, patio, and other places where they can pose hazards. Walnuts cause a black stain where they drop, and can be hazardous to walk on.

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

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