Transplanting 45 year old Camellia

Practical_PerfectionJuly 23, 2004

Hi! I am new to this forum and am not a gardener, however I love camellias and have an opportunity to acquire four very old plants.

These camellias are about 45 years old and quite large (12+ feet tall) and pruned like small trees. I think they are Japonicas. I live in the Seattle area and the plants must be moved by October. A landscaper I was referred to tells me he has successfully transplanted camellias this large twice, but can't guarantee all the plants will survive. He says that he will dig the trees up by hand and will be very careful but I'm wondering if there are things I should do to the plants now. Should they be pruned? Roots cut back?

Any advise would be greatly appreciated. These trees are going to be very expensive to move and I really want them to live!

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I don't know if this is possible in your situation....the greatest success moving these 'oldsters' here on the east coast is done with a bulldozer. The blade just scoops the plant out of the ground and transports it to and drops it in the properly prepared site. You might want to suggest this approach to your landscaper. Root pruning now is a good idea. They must be kept watered. They should be watered heavily two days before moving. Also, some other suggestions. It would be wise when the shrubs have set their buds next month to lightly trim off about 60% of them. Prune keeping the shape of the shrub in mind. Removing the buds will reduce stress on the plants as they adjust to their new home. In situations such as this I like to dust a little Rootone on any exposed cut roots during the planting process. It is a bit of extra insurance and helps the roots to regrow. Hopefully you can wait until the end of September before moving them. Good luck!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2004 at 10:10AM
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stevied(8b/9a FL)

How about a giant tree spade? We had our camellias moved this way during the fall and they never missed a beat. Of course, ours weren't as large as yours, but I'd get out the telephone book and see if I could find someone with a giant tree spade to move them.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2004 at 11:51AM
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You should certainly root prune them NOW. And plan your move no sooner than the middle of September. Have the holes ready for them so that they can be moved and placed quickly. Make sure that the new hole has also been well watered. Do not place them any lower in the ground than they have been used to.

I doubt that you will be able to save all four, but maybe it's possible. That would be wonderful!

My thought is that unless they are unusual specimens, or have some sentimental value, that you would be better off spending the same amount of money on the largest nursery grown ones you can find. Maybe even more than four. They would soon be as big and healthy as the ones you move. You are talking about $$$$$$$$ if you hire someone to do it. It's not the sort of thing that you could do yourself.

Good luck

    Bookmark   July 23, 2004 at 1:49PM
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Thank you for the replys!

PeaBee4, I did look into purchasing camellias from nurserys and was told by three different stores that the largest camellias they had were 5 gallon specimens because camellias were so difficult to transplant if they were any larger. One nursery which specializes in "mature" plants said they have never carried a 12+ foot camellia and if they did it would cost at least $3000.

The landscaper strongly discouraged me from having any big equipment used to move the plants because he said the risk would be too great of damage to the root balls. He wants to charge me $2000 to move the four camellias or $5000 to move 12 additional large plants (rhodies, laurels, a japanese maple, a small cypress, etc.)

All of these plants are coming from the yard of a friend who sold her 1950's house and the buyer is going to knock it down and build an apartment complex. So all of the plants have to go.

We are building a new house and naturally have bare ground right around the new structure. Being able to get all of these old mature plants is a wonderful opportunity for us. But like I said, I'm not really a gardener and paying almost $5000 for a truckload of plants that may die is not a good deal. I'm not sure if the plants really could be moved by heavy equipment or if the landscaper is correct to only do it by hand.

So I'm counting on your collective wisdom to keep these plants alive. They are beautiful trees and would look lovely around our new home but I really am not educated on their needs or behavior. Your advise is very welcome!

    Bookmark   July 23, 2004 at 2:16PM
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stevied(8b/9a FL)

I would ask the opinion of another landscaper in your area because I had really good luck with using one of those big tree spades. We moved approx. 10 camellias on my property during the fall of 2002 (?). They all survived perfectly. None of them were as large as 12 feet. Rather, they were all around 5-7 feet in height. I also think that the cost to you may be cheaper if a tree spade is used. I guess it depends on how far away from your property the Camellias are located.

To me, the opportunity to bag those old Camellias is definitely worth the risk, no matter which way you choose to transplant them!

1 Like    Bookmark   July 23, 2004 at 4:46PM
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stevied(8b/9a FL)

In my case, the Camellias to be transplanted were already located on our property. Therefore, the process involved first digging holes with the tree spade where the Camellias would be moved to, then using the tree spade to dig up one camellia at a time and, with the tree spade, place the Camellia into the new hole. The camellia never left the jaws of the tree spade during the process.

Our landscape guys told us that, if the camellia was set down with a thud or sudden, abrubt kind of landing, that it might be irrevocably damaged. Apparantly, such action could result in snapping the main roots or the trunk. A clearly (or barely?) audible snapping sound can be heard in some cases. Therefore, they wanted to directly move the camellia from its original location to the new hole.

Also, I was told that the small, fibrous roots would die within a few minutes ( a few? More like less than 1 minute) if exposed to air. Therefore, such roots needed to be watered immediately after digging them up.

After transplanting, we had to baby them by watering them every day with a thorough, heavy drenching for several months.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2004 at 5:04PM
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I have had a chance to move some rather large camellias in the past. In fact I moved over a hundred back some years ago. You may be moving them a little early in the year but on the upper Pacific Coast, the weather might be in your favor.

First, root prune the camellias at about 36 inches from the trunk. If you can get wider, go as wide away from the trunk as possible. The Camellia has shallow roots and you will get most of them within the top foot of top soil. I would use an 18" sharp shooter. Go all around each plant about 18" deep.
Second, prepare the place where you are going to plant the Camellias. I would till up an area about 6 ft. in diameter per plant. After you till the soil to at least 18" to 24"deep, I would add about 3 or 4 cu. ft. of a combination of ground up pine bark and sand. I would till this into the spot and also add some natural fertilizer. If you have cotton seed meal available, I would use that. I would put in about 10 lbs of cotton seed meal into the mixture of pine bark and sand. This will give you a real fluffy mound. It should be about 6 ft. wide. Let it sit for as long as you can before moving the large plants. When you move the plants, the later in the year the better, I would move off the top foot of soil from your prepared bed, sit the large rootball on top of the soil and cover it with the soil mixture that you removed. You will note that you are planting the Camellia on the top of the ground. Do not dig it out so that you are planting the plant in a hole. You want to have it sitck out of the ground at least 8 to 10 inches. Prune the top of the plant back to about 18: from the trunk of the plant. Keep it watered good but do not drown it. Let it settle on its own. Within 3 or 4 months it will settle about six inches and will continue to settle a little more over the next year. Keep at least two inches of the soil mixture over the exposed roots. I would also use some root tone in the hole to stimulate new root growth.
I wrote an article for the Camellia Journel several years ago about moving established Camellias. If you would contact Tom Johnson, the chief gardner at the American Camellia Society through their web site, he could probably get you some articles on moving large Camellias. Ann Walton is the Executive Director of the A.C.S. and she may be able to point you to someone in the Washington area who has some experience as well.


1 Like    Bookmark   July 24, 2004 at 12:09AM
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Wonderful advise! Thank you, Thank you!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2004 at 4:56AM
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stevied(8b/9a FL)

Let us know what you decide on and how it turns out. It will add to our knowledge!

    Bookmark   July 28, 2004 at 3:39PM
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vetivert8(NI-NZ zone 9a)

The toughest part of the exercise is lifting the plant from its old site, holding the root ball together, and getting it on/off the back of the truck.

Please ensure the trunk is well-protected whichever method is used.

It may also be prudent to keep the trunk protected while the tree re-establishes. And put the support stakes for the ties to stabilise the plant in the hole while you can still see the root system...

Expect it to take several YEARS to put out enough growth to hold it in the soil. If you experience a drought over that time, you must water and mulch.

One thing I have found useful is to cover the transplant with an old sheet or two and keep it moist. You don't have to have Hallowe'en in the front yard forever, but if the weather is dry it does reduce transpiration.

Rhodo and Pieris - both could be cut back quite hard if you know they are varieties that bud back readily - but it would be a pity to lose all those years of growth and structure forming.

If you have to slide the plants into the hole - do it on something that you can safely leave behind to rot down. "organic", for preference.

The other thing to check is your access route for bringing the plants to your site: not just the width, but the height. Do check for overhanging trees, balconies, power lines... And whether the ground is stable enough to take heavy vehicles.

Hope you have every success with your venture.

    Bookmark   September 4, 2004 at 5:37AM
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Hi - Found this website for info, And I appreciate all I read!!!!
I'm in the same boat, Actually we worked on a property in Tacoma moving a lot of trees, etc. the property will be bulldozed, anyways there where two Large camillia trees that they did not want, I don't know how old but I know over 20 years. One tree stands over 10 ft tall. to make this short, we Had the equipment to do the job *** BUlldozer, CRANE, & Dump truck *** Now I have two large Camillia trees in my Yard form last night. Yikes, One is HUge and since today is Father's day, I don't know if we can get them in the ground, WE stood them up and watered them last night.. We thought of selling, but then if they didn't make it I would feel bad.
Anyways Good luck with yours and If someone is going to do this by hand, I think heavy equipment is the way to go. The guys from moving the trees are beat.

I'll check back and let you know if anyone would like to see pic, I can send.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2007 at 2:02PM
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