From here to there: Understanding tree transportation

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Updated Feb 27, 2020
Photo: SiteOnePhoto: SiteOne

While it might not be the most common request, there’s a good chance that your customers might at some point want to add in a few more trees to their current landscape.

Take a look at what you need to know about the process of transporting trees from one location to another.


If you’re having to ship trees from another location, be sure to know the proper way to transport the trees based on how they are packaged.

The root balls of trees are very fragile and should be handled with extreme care, and the ones that are packaged in hard plastic containers or boxes are the most resistant to rougher handling. Root balls that are wrapped in soft fabric containers and balled in burlap tend to be the most sensitive.

Some nurseries have been known to wrap the outside of their root balls in black plastic shrink-wrap before transporting, which can help keep the ball together and reduce water loss.

Picking up the tree by the trunk can lead to the bark being stripped off, which means it’s much better for the tree if you lift it by the root ball whenever possible. Be very careful not to drop the tree, as this can cause contact between the roots and the soil to be disrupted.

When transporting, be sure to keep the trees securely tied down to keep them from rolling, as this type of movement can cause the root ball to crack and the roots to break.

Trees that are transported on open trucks are likely to lose more water than those in a closed truck, so be sure that trees are always properly covered when in the transporting process. If using a cover for transporting, be sure that it’s secured tightly to ensure the air moves over the cover and doesn’t make its way under it. When possible, avoid transporting trees without covers, and be sure the trees are irrigated right before being shipped to help cut down on desiccation.

Unless closed trucks are air conditioned, it’s best not to leave them sitting in the sun, as the trees can be injured if the inside temperature of the truck is at more than approximately 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

Along those same lines, root balls that are wrapped in clear plastic shouldn’t remain in the sun. Keep them stored in a shady area and remove the plastic to prevent temperatures in the root ball from reaching unsafe levels. All plastic must be completely removed before you begin planting.

Also, keep in mind that some nurseries might spray their trees down with an antidesiccant. Some of these have been known to reduce water loss during shipping and increase the survival of the tree, however, it can also hinder photosynthesis many weeks after being planted, which could elongate the establishment period by slowing down the root’s growth.

Branches of certain species will normally be tied together close to the trunk to ensure they do not break during the shipping process, and they can be secured by using string, plastic straps, fabrics and other materials.

Holding areas

Once trees arrive, it’s best to go ahead and try to plant them at the intended site if at all possible. If that doesn’t necessarily work out well for your project schedule, be sure to irrigate them as soon as they are inspected and unloaded and prepare a holding area for them in the meantime.

At this holding area, be sure it’s as shaded as possible and out of the way of the wind, and it should also have provisions for irrigation. To help save you time, it’s recommended that this holding area be set up prior to your trees arriving.

For trees that are balled and in burlap, the sides should be covered with soil, compost, saw dust, mulch or some other form of organic matter to help prevent root desiccation. This process can also help water penetrate the root ball, but be sure to avoid covering up the top, as this can restrict the flow of irrigation into the root ball.

Trees that were transported in containers should remain upright to allow water to seep into the root ball, and remember that grouping them together can provide mutual shading for the root balls.

Root systems on bare root trees should be covered with material that will hold moisture and should be kept out of the wind and sun to ensure they survive.

Unless you know the trees will be stored in complete shade, do not cover root balls or trees that have any type of clear plastic, as this could increase temperatures and harm the roots.

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