Transplanting Japanese Maple | Complete Guide for Success

Transferring a Japanese maple tree to a different spot is no easy feat, but it is necessary if you want to change its location.

Japanese maples can be sensitive to changes in their environment, so it’s important to take the proper steps when transplanting them.

The most critical step in transplanting a Japanese maple is digging it out of the ground. This can be a delicate process as you want to avoid damaging the tree’s roots as much as possible.

Timing is also important, as transplanting during the wrong season can lead to stress and even death for the tree.

With the right tools and techniques, however, you can successfully transplant a Japanese maple and enjoy its beauty for years to come.

Discover the secrets to maintaining the vibrant foliage and graceful growth of Japanese maples in my Japanese maple care guide.

Do Japanese Maples Transplant Well?

Japanese maples can transplant well if the process is done correctly and the right conditions are met.

It is important to consider the size and age of the tree, the season, soil conditions, and the transplanting technique before attempting to transplant a Japanese maple tree.

With proper care and attention, a transplanted Japanese maple can thrive in its new location.

Factors Affecting Transplant Success

  1. Size of the Tree: Smaller trees are easier to transplant than larger ones. It is recommended to transplant trees that are less than 6 feet tall and have a trunk diameter of 2 inches or less.
  2. Age of the Tree: Younger trees transplant better than older ones. Trees that are less than 10 years old are easier to transplant than older trees.
  3. Season: The best time to transplant a Japanese maple is during the dormant season, which is late fall to early spring. Transplanting during the growing season can cause stress to the tree and reduce its chances of survival.
  4. Soil Conditions: Japanese maples prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter. Before transplanting, make sure the new location has the appropriate soil conditions.
  5. Transplanting Technique: Proper technique is crucial for successful transplanting. The root ball should be kept intact, and the tree should be watered and cared for appropriately after transplanting.

When Is a Tree Too Big To Transplant?

While it is possible to transplant trees of almost any size, there comes a point where it may not be practical or feasible to do so.

  • Size of the tree: Trees with a trunk diameter of more than 4 inches are generally considered too large to transplant.
  • Age of the tree: Trees that are more than 20 years old are generally considered too old to transplant.
  • Overall health: Trees that are stressed, diseased, or damaged may not survive the stress of transplanting.
  • Root system: Trees with extensive root systems may be more difficult to transplant and may not survive the stress of transplanting.


When transplanting a Japanese maple, there are several factors to consider to ensure the tree’s successful relocation.

Age & Size of Tree

Younger trees with smaller root systems are generally easier to transplant than older, more established trees.

Larger trees will require a more substantial root ball to ensure the tree’s stability and survival after transplantation.

Size of Root Ball

The root ball should be large enough to support the tree’s size and ensure that enough roots are included to support the tree’s health and growth.

In general, the root ball should be at least as wide as the tree’s canopy and as deep as the root system.

Tree Health

Trees that are stressed or unhealthy are less likely to survive the transplanting process. Before transplanting, inspect the tree for any signs of disease, pest infestation, and drought stress.

Growing Conditions of New Location

Japanese maples prefer well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. The new location should have similar growing conditions to the tree’s current location to ensure its successful growth and health.

Additionally, the tree should be planted in a location that receives the appropriate amount of sunlight and shade for its specific needs.

A close look at a laceleaf Japanese maple with purple-red leaves.

How To Determine Root Ball Size

When transplanting a Japanese maple, determining the size of the root ball is crucial to ensure the tree’s survival. The root ball is the mass of soil and roots that surrounds the tree’s root system.

The size of the root ball required for a successful transplant depends on the size of the tree.

In general, the root ball should be about 11 inches in diameter for every inch of trunk diameter (also known as caliper) at the base of the tree.

To determine the root ball size, start by measuring the diameter of the tree trunk at its base. Multiply this measurement by 11 to get the minimum diameter of the root ball required.

For example, if the tree trunk is 3 inches in diameter, the root ball should be at least 33 inches in diameter.

Trunk Caliper (inches)Diameter of Root Ball (inches)Weight of Root Ball (pounds)

It is important to note that this is the minimum size required for a successful transplant. If possible, make the root ball larger than this to ensure that the tree has enough roots to support its growth after transplanting.

Once the root ball has been dug, it is critical to keep it intact during transport and replanting. This can be done by wrapping the root ball in burlap or similar material and securing it with twine.

Best Time to Transplant Japanese Maple Trees

The best time to transplant a Japanese maple tree is during its dormant season, which is winter through early spring, just before the tree begins to bud.

During this time, the tree’s root system is less active, making it easier to transplant without causing too much shock.

Transplanting a Japanese maple tree during the growing season, especially in direct sunlight or high temperatures, can cause stress to the tree and lead to leaf burn or even death.

If the ground is frozen or the weather is too extreme, it is not a good time to transplant.

Preparations Before Transplanting Japanese Maple Trees

Transplanting a Japanese maple tree is a delicate process that requires careful planning and preparation to ensure success.

Choosing the Right Location

Japanese maples prefer well-draining soil and partial shade to full sun, depending on the variety. They should be planted in an area that is sheltered from strong winds and protected from extreme temperatures.

When choosing a new location for your Japanese maple, consider the following factors:

  • Soil quality: Japanese maples prefer well-draining soil that is rich in nutrients. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, consider amending it with compost or other organic matter.
  • Sun exposure: Japanese maples prefer partial shade to full sun, but this is highly dependent on the specific variety. If you are transplanting to a location with more sun exposure, be sure to acclimate it gradually to prevent sunburn on the leaves.
  • Space: Make sure you choose a location with enough space for your Japanese maple to grow. Consider the size of the tree at maturity and the size of its root system.

Preparing the Tree

Before transplanting your Japanese maple tree, it is important to inspect it carefully for any issues that should be corrected first.

If the tree appears strong and healthy, you can prepare it for the move.

  1. Remove any dead or damaged branches, and trim back any long or leggy growth. This will help the tree conserve energy and reduce transplant shock.
  2. Water your Japanese maple thoroughly the day before transplanting. This will help prevent the roots from drying out during the move.

How To Transplant a Japanese Maple

After preparing the tree and its new growing location:

  1. Dig a trench: Start by digging a trench around the tree, about two feet away from the trunk. This will help you locate the edge of the root ball.
  2. Dig under the root ball: Use a sharp spade to dig under the root ball. Make sure to keep the root ball intact as you dig.
  3. Lift the tree: Once the root ball is free, carefully lift the tree out of the ground. Be sure to support the trunk and root ball to avoid damage.
  4. Transport the tree: Move the tree to its new location as quickly as possible. Avoid exposing the roots to direct sunlight or wind during the move.

Signs of Transplant Shock

Transplanting a Japanese maple can be stressful for the tree and may result in transplant shock. It is important to be aware of the signs of transplant shock to help the tree recover quickly. Here are some common symptoms:

  • Wilting or drooping leaves: The leaves may appear dry and brittle, or they may look soft and limp. This is because the roots of the tree have been disturbed, and they are not able to absorb water and nutrients as effectively as before.
  • Leaf scorch: Leaf scorch occurs when the leaves of the tree turn brown or yellow around the edges. This is due to the lack of water and nutrients reaching the leaves.
  • Stunted growth: The tree may also exhibit stunted growth because the roots are not able to absorb enough water and nutrients to support normal growth.
  • Leaf drop: The tree may drop some or all of its leaves in an attempt to conserve water. This is a natural response to stress and is not necessarily a sign that the tree is dying.
  • Delayed growth: It may take longer than usual for new growth to appear. This is because the tree is focusing its energy on repairing its root system rather than producing new leaves or flowers.

How To Minimize Transplant Shock

Transplant shock is not a pretty sight; however, there are steps that can be taken to minimize the effects of transplant shock and ensure the tree’s survival.

1. Choose the Right Time and Conditions

Transplanting a Japanese maple during the dormant season is the best time to minimize transplant shock. During this time, the tree is not actively growing, and its energy is focused on root development.

Choose a cool, cloudy day to minimize stress on the tree. Avoid transplanting on hot and sunny days as the heat can cause the tree to lose too much water through transpiration.

2. Dig Carefully and Keep the Roots Intact

When digging up the tree, be as careful as possible to keep as much of the root system intact. The more roots that are preserved, the better the tree will be able to absorb water and nutrients after transplanting.

It is recommended to dig a trench that is as wide as the tree’s crown to protect the root ball from damage during transplanting.

3. Water and Fertilize

Water the tree thoroughly before transplanting to ensure that the root ball is moist. After transplanting, water the tree regularly for the first three months to help it establish its new root system.

Using a root stimulator can also help the tree establish its roots more quickly. Fertilizing the tree with a well-diluted liquid fertilizer after transplanting can also help it recover from transplant shock and promote new growth.

4. Mulch

Adding a layer of mulch around the base of the tree can help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.

However, be sure to keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk to avoid “volcano mulching,” which can cause damage to the tree.

Caring for Newly Transplanted Japanese Maple

After successfully transplanting a Japanese maple tree, it is important to take good care of it to ensure its survival. Here are some tips to help you care for your newly transplanted Japanese maple:


The tree should be watered regularly for the first few weeks after transplanting to help it establish its new root system.

Water the tree deeply once a week, making sure to soak the soil around the root ball. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot.


Mulching can help retain moisture in the soil and regulate soil temperature.

Apply a layer of organic mulch around the base of the tree, making sure to keep it a few inches away from the trunk. This will help prevent moisture buildup around the trunk, which can lead to rot.


Once the tree has begun to put out new growth, you can begin to fertilize it with a balanced fertilizer, preferably one created specifically for Japanese maples, like this one.

FoxFarm Happy Frog Japanese Maple Fertilizer | 4-3-4, 4 lbs

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Be sure the formula is low in nitrogen, and follow the instructions on the fertilizer package carefully, as overfertilizing can be harmful to the tree.


Pruning is generally not recommended for a newly transplanted Japanese maple until it has become established in its new location.

Once the tree has begun to put out new growth, you can begin to prune it to shape it and remove any dead or damaged branches. Make sure to use clean, sharp pruning shears to avoid damaging the tree.

Protection From Sun and Wind

Newly transplanted Japanese maples are susceptible to sun and wind damage, so it is important to protect them from these elements.

If the tree is in a sunny location, provide some shade for it during the hottest part of the day. A shade cloth is a perfect solution until the tree becomes acclimated to its new location.

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If the tree is in a windy location, provide some wind protection for it if possible until it has become established.

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