Potted trees can be purchased in many sizes. Tiny trees might come in a pot as small as 1 gallon in size. I commonly plant fruit trees from 7- and 10-gallon pots. Much larger sizes are also available, and the larger the tree, the closer you are to having a magnificent specimen in your yard or orchard.
But here’s the problem: While large pots support older and larger trees, they’re also heavy and can be difficult to move around. As pots increase in size, the volume of soil they hold follows suit, and soil can be very, very heavy. Planting trees from large pots can be difficult … but it need not be an insurmountable challenge. In fact, it can be surprisingly simple. And you don’t necessarily need much machinery to help.
Dealing with Large Fruit Trees
This spring, I was shopping at my favorite nursery when a couple of impressive apple trees caught my attention. They were every bit of 12 feet tall, and one was loaded with just-forming apples. They were gorgeous specimens at very reasonable prices given their size, and I decided they had to come home with me.
The problem was, the trees were growing in 25-gallon pots. The soil in a 25-gallon pot probably weighs close to 300 pounds, and when combined with the weight of a tree (with lush leaves and apples) … I knew moving and planting those potted trees wouldn’t be easy.
Shipping the trees home was the easy part. I paid for delivery, and the nursery kindly brought the trees to my front yard, where a strong deliveryman used a dolly to roll the heavy trees down a ramp and drop them off. The tricky part would be getting the trees from the yard to my orchard, about 800 feet away.
I thought about using the hydraulics on a tractor—either by crafting a means for a three-point hitch to lift the pots; by lifting the pots in the bucket of a front-end loader; or by wrestling the trees on to a pallet that could be lifted by a fork lift attachment. I also thought about enlisting the help of several strong people to simply lift the pots into a tractor-pulled trailer.
But in the end, none of these approaches were necessary. Instead, I kept things simple with a garden tractor, a small utility trailer, a few blocks of wood, and a long wooden plank.
Wooden Ramp to the Rescue
It couldn’t have gone better. I used the garden tractor to back up the utility trailer to within about 12 feet of the first 25-gallon pot. Then I took a sturdy 12-foot wooden plank and laid it down so one end was in the utility trailer and the other end was right up at the base of the heavy pot, turning the plank into a ramp for the trees. Underneath the plank, I stacked a few blocks of wood to provide support.
Then I called in a couple of people to help me slide the pot up the plank. With very little effort, all 300 pounds of soil and however many pounds of tree glided up into the trailer. After driving the trailer to my orchard, I parked 12 feet from the pre-dug planting hole, set the plank and blocks of wood back up, slid the tree easily down the plank, and gently rolled it into the hole.
There you have it. With minimal equipment and a couple of helpers, I managed to move a potted tree weighing hundreds of pounds without ever lifting the pot. It was fast, it was easy, and it was gentle on the tree.
So what are you waiting for? Even if you don’t have fancy equipment like a tractor with a front-end loader, you can still plant large, beautiful trees. And, as I did, you can even get a head start on enjoying homegrown apples!