Transplanting a Magnolia Tree Transplanting a Magnolia Tree

A magnolia tree, depending on the type, is difficult, but not impossible to transplant. For the best results, determine which type of magnolia tree you have and then follow the instructions for transplanting.

TIP: Our expert gardening advisor, Kathy Bosin adds, "The two most important things in transplanting are planting depth and water. Make sure that the new hole for your tree is the same depth as the old one. Remember to water deeply after transplanting."

When to Transplant

Deciduous magnolias are best transplanted in the fall. Some magnolia tree types, however, such as saucer magnolia, can be transplanted almost any time. Remember, however, that root pruning must be done well in advance of transplanting. For transplanting a magnolia tree in the fall, root pruning must be done the previous spring. Root prune in the fall to transplant the following spring.

Root Pruning a Magnolia Tree

Root pruning is to stimulate growth of new feeder roots close to the tree. These are the magnolia roots that will be dug up with the root ball when the tree is transplanted.

  • Water soil thoroughly around the magnolia tree.
  • Tie up or protect lower tree branches.
  • Measure and mark the area to be pruned. Allow 10 to 12 inches for each 1-inch diameter of magnolia tree trunk.
  • Cut a trench around the tree using a flat spade. Use loppers to cut larger roots.
  • Dig the trench down to about a 2-foot depth. The idea is to reach as many lateral roots as possible.
  • After all the cutting and pruning is complete, replace the soil (subsoil and topsoil) around the tree.
  • Water thoroughly and remove protective covering.
  • Do not dig any more around the tree until time to transplant.

Transplanting a Magnolia Tree

For general planning purposes, anticipate cutting a magnolia root ball 4 to 6 inches out from where the roots were pruned the previous fall or spring. Then proceed as follows:

  • Water the soil thoroughly to soften the soil, reduce stress to the tree, and keep the root ball intact.
  • Dig the new hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the root ball—but keep the depth the same.
  • Thoroughly water the hole before transplanting.
  • Tie off the branches of the magnolia tree or otherwise protect them.
  • Mark the soil 4 to 6 inches beyond where the roots were previously pruned.
  • Dig all around the tree, going outside the mark. Dig deeper and cut out larger roots with loppers.
  • Next, dig underneath the magnolia tree root ball.
  • Place tarp or burlap beside the root ball.
  • Tilt the root ball onto the tarp or burlap. Lift from underneath the plant. Do not tilt by the trunk.
  • If not transplanting immediately, keep the root ball moist by wrapping in burlap or wet newspaper.
  • Move magnolia tree to the new area, position in the hole, and backfill with subsoil and topsoil.
  • Water the newly transplanted magnolia tree deeply.
  • If you do not receive regular rainfall, ensure a consistent and deep watering schedule every 10 to 14 days.
  • Add 2 to 3 inches of organic mulch around the magnolia tree.
  • Stake taller trees.
  • Do not fertilize until after the first year.

Finally, remember that a magnolia tree will take several years to recover from the shock of being transplanted. It may not flower or appear to grow much during this time. Some magnolia tree varieties may recover more quickly.

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