Can I dig up a magnolia tree?

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With their glossy green leaves and creamy, fragrant flowers, magnolia trees are statuesque ornamental trees that enhance landscapes across the UK. The magnolia is valued by gardeners for its beauty, hardiness, showy blooms and evergreen quality. Sometimes a cherished magnolia tree planted in a less-than-ideal location may be need to be moved but, because of the tree's unique root system, this can pose a challenge. By following particular techniques for uprooting and transplanting magnolia trees, you can increase your chances that the move will be successful.

Magnolia roots

Magnolia roots are unbranched, fibrous and rope-like. This makes moving large magnolia trees difficult. If the roots are damaged, the magnolia can suffer transplant shock and even death. A good rule of thumb is only to attempt to move a magnolia tree if the trunk is less than 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter.

Transplant preparations

Prune the tree back by a third before the move to lessen the need for nutrients until the roots take hold, and make sure to remove all damaged or crossed branches. If possible, prepare your magnolia for the move by severing some of the roots while it is still in the old location. Promote new roots by cutting roots inside the rootball six months to a year before you plan to move the tree; these will branch and help to provide nutrients for the magnolia in its new location. Plan to move your magnolia in the spring, so it can benefit from the growing season. When digging up the tree, start digging at an angle all around the tree at the width of the rootball you are planning to move. Strive for width rather than depth in preserving the roots; most magnolia roots are in the top 30 cm (1 foot) of soil. Sway the magnolia to break it free from the soil, then gently topple the tree and rootball onto a tarpaulin or plastic sheet to keep as much soil intact around the rootball as possible.

Transplant the magnolia

To avoid any drying out of roots, dig the receiving hole before you uproot the magnolia. Keep the rootball as intact as possible by moving the magnolia tree on a sheet or tarpaulin to the receiving hole. Ensure that the root system will not be crowded or folded by making sure that the hole is twice as large as the rootball and loosening the edges with a shovel. Ensure good drainage in the new location by putting humus in the bottom of the receiving hole. After placing the tree, backfill with garden soil and additional humus. Apply a 7.5 cm (3 inch) layer of mulch to protect the roots and conserve moisture, and water the magnolia tree generously. Promote new root establishment by using a good root stimulator fertiliser and watering deeply and frequently the first month after planting.

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