Issue: August 21, 2004

Transplant fir trees


I live in Roswell but have a question concerning our vacation home in Red River, NM. The house sits at an elevation of 9250 feet. In the immediate vicinity we have predominately aspen trees around the house, but recently we have had several spruce trees and evergreens spring up close by. Of particular interest to me are 2 small fir trees (one 4 feet tall, the other 3 feet) because there are so few of them in the forest nearby.

One of these fir trees is growing beside our pump house, as if it sprouted from the foundation. The other is growing within a foot of our house and right over ground where our septic line is buried. We feel that they are doomed in these locations and want to save them.

When is the best time of year to move them? How much root system should be moved with them? How large an area should be dug for their new location? How should soil in that new location be prepared?


The best time to transplant these trees is in late winter after the ground thaws but before growth begins. In other areas of the state, fall planting may be satisfactory. In your area where the ground will freeze, spring planting is better than fall planting.

The more root system you can move with the plant, the better. A rootball depth of 1 to 1-1/2 feet should be sufficient with a width of 2 feet or more.

Prepare the planting site before digging the tree by rototilling or digging and mixing in compost. The compost may be optional in your area if the soil is not too hard, but loosening the soil by digging is beneficial. The size of the area to prepare depends on the nature of the soil where you will plant the trees. If the soil has not been compacted by construction vehicles, a prepared site 2 to 3 times the width of the rootball should be sufficient. If the soil was compacted by construction traffic when the house was constructed, prepare the soil over a much larger area (as large as you are willing to loosen the soil). Don't injure large roots of nearby trees as you prepare the soil.

As you choose the site for the trees, consider the ultimate size of the trees and allow plenty of room for future growth without danger to the structure. The danger to consider is the tree falling during wind or bringing fire too close to the house in the event of a forest fire.

In the long run, it may prove easier to purchase young trees at a nursery rather than trying to salvage these trees. This is especially true if they are so close to the structures that you cannot get a large rootball. Even if you are able to transplant the small trees successfully, you may also want to buy additional fir trees to supplement those you move.

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Marisa Y. Thompson, PhD, is the Extension Horticulture Specialist, in the Department of Extension Plant Sciences at the New Mexico State University Los Lunas Agricultural Science Center, email:, office: 505-865-7340, ext. 113.


For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension Horticulture page at Desert Blooms and the NMSU Horticulture Publications page.

Send gardening questions to Southwest Yard and Garden - Attn: Dr. Marisa Thompson at, or at the Desert Blooms Facebook.

Please copy your County Extension Agent and indicate your county of residence when you submit your question!