Planting tall trees: Is it worth the risk?

special equipment guided by landscapers moving a large tree
Your clients might love the idea of adding a mature tree instead of waiting for one to grow, but there's a lot involved.
Terren Landscapes

Trees are such a special part of the landscape. But when clients are establishing a brand-new landscape, they might not feel as though they have the patience to let young trees mature. After all, it can take years for small, immature trees to grow tall—and some clients might be wondering if you can speed up the process by starting out with something larger.

The problem is, planting tall trees comes with a fair amount of risk. The larger the tree, the more difficult it is to move and transplant. Plus, there’s some risk involved in getting it established in its new location. Considering that planting a tall/mature tree is also more costly, some clients might not want to pay.

While it might not be the right choice for everyone, John Lipartito, marketing manager for Terren Landscapes in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, says that they’ve had success in planting trees over 15-feet tall for clients who wanted to establish a more mature landscape from the get-go.

He shares some of the risks that landscape professionals need to be aware of if attempting this type of work as well as how to reduce them.

Tall tree risk

special equipment moving a large treeTransplanting a large tree requires specialized equipment.Terren Landscapes

According to Lipartito, there are two equally large risks that make planting mature trees so difficult. The first is the damage incurred while unloading and transporting a tree to its final location.

“Doing so requires a huge telescopic handler that is difficult to maneuver and see out of with a 25-foot tree on the front,” he says. “We tend to take this stressful process very slow because dropping a tree or smashing branches pretty much guarantees you will be eating the cost of a replacement and losing a day of work.”

The second risk has to do with ensuring the tree becomes established with proper care. The correct amount of water is absolutely key.

“Once planted, we immediately soak it down to the roots and stick a trickling garden hose at the base to keep it moist the rest of the day,” Lipartito explains. “If you don’t, a tree that looked fine when it went in can be drooped over and lifeless just a few hours later. Regular watering for the first three weeks or so is equally important, so we always make sure a customer is up to the task or has irrigation in place before leaving the jobsite.”

Mitigating that risk

Lipartito says that a well-trained crew and well-educated clients can be the antidote to these potential problems.

“When unloading or moving big trees, the best insurance against problems is an experienced crew and a patient machine operator,” he says. “When people know what they’re doing and are able to communicate well, the risk of damaging a tree or someone getting hurt goes way down.”

Ensuring that a tree is going to perform well in its new home also means it needs to be planted in the right location on the property. The location must be able to meet the tree’s needs in terms of soil and sunlight conditions.

Lipartito says that they perform a soil test to determine the composition of the property’s soil before planting. This will also provide valuable information on how to best care for the tree after it is installed.

When it comes to caring for the tree, Lipartito says that they must make absolute sure the homeowners are prepared to handle it. Still, they’ll often check in.

“After installing a really big tree, we’ll even go out regularly in the following weeks just to ensure it’s getting done, because you never know,” he says. “It’s relatively expensive to install mature trees, particularly as compared to small immature trees, so we want our clients to succeed.”     

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