Successfully transplanting Japanese maple trees is based on several factors.
1. The size of the tree to be transplanted
2. The age of the tree
3. The overall health
4. What is the condition of the root system
5. Timing (when to transplant)
The size of the tree is most important, not whether or not the tree will survive a transplant, but what size of a root ball must be dug, picked up, transported and replanted. In theory any size tree can be moved if enough of the root system remains undamaged during the transplanting. A root system of a mature 6-8 foot Crimson Queen Japanese Maple allowed to develop naturally without any restrictions can spread out over 12 feet wide and up to 3 feet deep. This is a huge root ball and probably not anything a homeowner without heavy equipment would be able to tackle.
However a 3-4 year old tree, 3 feet tall and wide is a size a homeowner could move with some help. Generally speaking, a tree with a trunk caliper of less than 1 inch (about the size of a broom handle) could be moved with a 12-18 inch root ball. This root measurement is tall and wide and weigh about 50-80 lbs. A 1-2 inch caliper tree would need an 18-24 inch root ball weighing about 80-150 lbs, a 2-3 inch caliper tree would have a 24-30 inch root ball weighing about 150-300 lbs.
Age is also a factor as the older a tree, the further away from the trunk the feeder roots are located. For the sake of not getting too complicated, the root tips are where the majority of water and nutrients are absorbed. The part between the root tip and the trunk of the tree is more for structural support and does little to keep the plant nourished. So the older and larger a tree, the larger the root ball must be to contain enough viable root tips to continue to supply the tree with water and nutrients.
A healthy tree will have a better root system and will be more likely to survive a transplant. Normally a tree that looks sick on top will also have a compromised root system. It is possible and likely that some of the only viable roots will be severed, which will cause the tree to die as soon as it is stressed due to heat or drought.
Timing is also very important. It is best to transplant in late winter or very early spring just before the tree would naturally start breaking out into bud. I like this time for transplanting because it gives the tree the shortest time with a compromised root system before the soil starts to warm up and allows new roots to grow. Also by cutting some roots when digging the root ball, the tree will automatically be set back and will not push out new leaves as quickly. This will give the root system some extra time to become established before the tree has to support all the new leaves.
I also like to prune about 25% of a tree’s canopy back during a transplant. This will also reduce stress on the smaller root system.
Adding a low amount of a low nitrogen fertilizer and root stimulator during planting will help nourish the tree and aid in its survival.
Keep the soil moist but not overly wet. Roots grow when looking for water. If you keep the soil overly wet the roots will have no need to grow and will remain weak. Once the air temperature becomes hot, the tree will quickly become stressed because of the weak root system and will have a much lower rate of survival.
Follow these tips and you should be able to successfully transplant your Japanese maple tree.