How to Safely Move Young Trees Long Distances

Transporting live, young trees might seem difficult, but with a utility trailer, some blankets and plenty of rope, you can move them safely.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Do you aim to plant fruit trees on your farm so you can harvest crops of apples, pears and plums for years to come? Do you want to plant beautiful shade trees such as maples or oaks to enhance the landscaping on your farm? Do you need to plant a row or two of windbreak trees to protect buildings and reduce snow drifting during the winter?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you will probably need to transport young trees to your farm. Maybe you’re lucky enough to live near a large nursery. Otherwise, the challenge of transporting trees five to 12 feet tall over long distances might leave you puzzled, especially if they’re in pots and leafed out (as many at nurseries are).

Fortunately, the task is relatively easy. If you have a decent size utility trailer, some rope and plenty of blankets (or sheets, or tarps) you can bring home trees for fruit, shade or windbreak safely and soundly with minimal damage.

Last summer, I traveled 75 miles to a lovely tree nursery to pick up 10 quality apple and plum trees I had purchased to serve as the foundation for a new orchard. Once there, the nursery staff helped me tie ropes around the branches of the trees, gently bending them upward and inward to reduce the size of the crowns and keep the branches from being bent in more awkward ways during transportation.

Once the branches were tied, we transported the trees flat, on their sides, in my utility trailer. You might believe it better to transport trees standing upright, but in that position they’re battered by the wind as you drive, causing stress and damage. Even ones stretching 10 feet tall or more are still small enough to maneuver horizontally into a trailer, and their heavy root balls help keep trunks elevated in horizontal positions.

Because my utility trailer has wooden sides about 1 1/2 feet tall, our final step involved tying a layer of sheets and blankets across the trailer to keep the trees under cover and further protect them from the wind. We easily accomplished this by using clamps, ropes and concrete blocks; we went to considerable effort to ensure that everything was tied down tightly and securely.

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The drive home was a slightly nervous one, accomplished at a modest speed to further reduce the effects of the wind, but the sheets stayed in place and the trees made it home without any more damage than a few lost leaves from being brushed against the bed of the trailer. This year, all 10 trees have blossoms, and I hope they’ll produce fruit in late summer and fall—not bad for young trees less than a year removed from a 75-mile journey.

I plan to pick up a few more in the near future, and I’ll repeat these steps to prepare them for transportation. I encourage you to do the same.

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