Transplant a Tree With a Giant Two Wheel Dolly




Introduction: Transplant a Tree With a Giant Two Wheel Dolly

About: Tim Anderson is the author of the "Heirloom Technology" column in Make Magazine. He is co-founder of, manufacturers of "3D Printer" output devices. His detailed drawings of traditional Pacific I…

It's like a giant furniture mover's dolly for moving trees.
This method works great for trees that a vehicle can't get to.

When there's vehicle access the A-Frame method of tree moving works great . Manual methods work okay for small trees. But I have ten biggish fruit trees to move with no vehicle access. New methods are needed.

This is big heavy stuff. It can fall and crush heads and bodies.
Ropes under tension can snap and fly a long way.
I've seen it happen.  It can cause great damage to people and property.
I saw a broken rope fly through a car breaking back window and windshield. It sounded like a gun.
Don't hurt your back. Trees grow much faster than a back can heal.

Step 1: Or Rather, Ancient Ones...

In 1700's England  "Capability Brown" invented this tree moving wagon to improve landscapes for the wealthy.
This image is supposed to be from Samuel Hayes c.1794 but I can't find it in the book.

Exposing the roots and taking as many as you can with you can be a good thing, but don't let them dry out for very long.

Step 2: Get Welding

The tree moving season is coming to an end. The fruit trees are waking up, flowering and budding.
It's much better to move them when they're asleep. Like vampires.
The rainy season is coming to an end. We've had our two feet of rain for the year. It might not rain for another six months. When the East Bay flats dry out, that rich black clay soil turns to hard adobe. That makes the digging very difficult.
There's not much time left, and I've got ten trees to move. Pressure.
Pressure underground makes coal into diamonds.
Pressure in the human bloodstream makes caffeine into a shamanic drug.  It allows the artist to unhinge the lower jaw of the imagination and swallow a design problem.

I listened to lectures from the London School of Economics on Jackhammer Headphones to distract my conscious mind. The hands and subconscious mind are much better designers.
I walked around the lot and grabbed what I needed. A couple of wheelbarrow wheels and a lot of scrap square tubing. I did most of the welding with my spoolgun welder powered by the solar golfcart. When it got too windy I moved indoors and finished with commercial MIG gear. Soon I had the frame in this photo. The headphone lecture made me well acquainted with "Agency Cost Control" as a guiding principle of corporate law ( Oversee and limit the power of managers. They inevitably have a conflict of interest.).

Unfortunately designing with the hands and subconscious does not result in good photography.

Step 3: The Finished Tree Dolly

I painted the frame immediately to keep the tubing from rusting again.

The mast is douglas fir. 9cm square, 3.5 meters long.
It slides into rectangular brackets and is retained by a 15mm steel pin through the bottom bracket.
The shopping cart next to it contains some giant steel hooks I made to lift the tree's root ball.

Step 4: First Use!

James in Fremont needed two trees moved from one side of his yard to the other. It was time for him to make more room for his frolicking children. In exchange he would give me four other fruit trees. He already trenched around this apricot tree. The root ball is smaller than I would like. I cut under it with the longest skinniest sharpest shovel I had while  the dolly supported the weight of the tree.
Just as seen in that old engraving. But I carved a root ball instead of trying to do a bare root transplant.

Roll your mouse over the yellow rectangles in the photo to read about what's going on here.

Step 5: Tipped for Transport

Pull on the mast-head guy rope to tip the dolly back. Guide the tree and rootball onto a good resting spot on the dolly as you do this. Add pads and blocks under it if necessary.

It's amazing how little force it takes on the mast-head rope to lift and tip the tree.
Don't let the dolly fall and clobber anyone on the head.

More innertubes secure the rootball to the dolly.

Step 6: Anchor and Guy, Ready for Planting

Here's the dolly rigged over the planting hole.
I pounded the hook into  the ground with a sledge hammer and some wiggling.
I tied the guy line to the hook. The curved hook is a lot easier to get out than a straight stake. Wiggling it enlarges the whole hole so it pulls right out.

When we untied the tree it swung to the right and the dolly started to tip. So we blocked up one end of the 2x4 under the dolly frame.

Step 7: Planting

James fills around the tree as I lower it into the hole.
We leaned the dolly over the hole so we could spin the tree as it hung suspended. That made it easy to get rotated just right.
The 2x4 under the frame keeps the dolly from falling into the hole. Also makes it easier to keep it from tipping over sideways on the irregular ground.

Dig a bigger hole than you need.
Spade and fork up the dirt in the hole so it's loose. If the destination dirt isn't the same as the root ball dirt, mix the two types so there's no abrupt change between the two. After the tree is in the hole and is standing upright, I remove the innertubes and carpet scraps around the root ball.
Plant the tree no deeper than the bulge at the bottom of the trunk.
Mulch all over the top of the roots, but not quite up the trunk.
Then water the tree thoroughly and regularly.

If high winds or college students are in the area, tie stakes and guy ropes to the trunk so it doesn't get knocked over.

Step 8: Next Tree

The next tree is a fruiting cherry. Charles grafted multiple varieties onto the branches of this tree.
The soil is too dense for me to undercut the whole ball with my long sharp shovel. So first I trench around the tree.

I tried to move the biggest root ball I could manage with this tree. That meant a lot of extra digging as I figured out how big I could make it without it breaking apart.

There's a plastic water pipe there, but it ends right at the root ball.

Step 9: Rigged, Wrapped, Undercut, Lifted, and Tipped.

The large root ball makes this tree much heavier than the previous one.
Volume and mass of a solid grows with the cube of linear dimension.
That is (length X width  X height)  = volume. Volume X Density = Mass.
In other words, it gets a whole lot heavier from small increases in size.
When you scale it up linearly, the mass grows exponentially. 

Step 10: Good Root Ball

This is what a good one looks like.
The roots are cut cleanly so they can heal well and fight off infections.
The remaining rigging and planting steps are the same as what you've already seen.

Happy tree moving!

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    29 Discussions


    4 years ago

    Sweet! The feel, moment


    10 years ago on Step 9

    Hey this is nifty! The tree looks comfortable and secure.


    10 years ago on Introduction

    Are those the solid wheelbarrow tires? I finally got some and love them.


    Reply 10 years ago on Introduction

    pneumatic, I think from harbor freight. One wheel's bearing tube was too wide and one was too short, so I did a cut-and-graft welding operation to make them match.