En Español

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - September 14, 2008

From: Newport Beach, CA
Region: California
Topic: Transplants, Watering, Trees
Title: Relocating native oak trees in compacted soil
Answered by: Barbara Medford


Can you replant and relocate small oak trees in compacted soil and will they grow or go into shock?


Since you did not specify the species of oak tree you are considering transplanting, we have chosen Quercus agrifolia (California live oak) as an example. It is the common oak of the Southern California coast and foothills. From our webpage on this tree, you will learn that it needs a well-drained soil, which a compacted soil is not. An added complication is that oaks have long taproots, sometimes growing 5 feet of taproot in one year from sprouting. The best and fastest-growing oaks are grown in place, starting exactly where they end up. 

However, if you are willing to put in some work and experiment, perhaps some small trees can be transplanted with a good survival rate. They should not be planted until the coolest time of the year, probably December or January in Southern California. So, start now doing something about the compacted soil you are planning to put those trees into. You're going to need to get some organic materials mixed into the soil to improve the drainage. And you're going to need a hole considerably larger than the root ball of the oak you are transplanting. Select prospective sites for your little oaks, and incorporate compost, leaf mould or other materials into the native soil of the hole. It will have a few months to continue to decompose, improving the texture and drainage of that soil. And choose your sites with an eye to the mature tree. Planting any tree near pavement, sidewalks or even foundations is a mistake. Even trees with taproots have lateral roots growing out to twice the width of the dripline of the tree. 

When planting time comes, first dig your hole, in the previously amended soil. Then dig as large a root ball as you can manage, transplanting one tree at a time. Leave the root balls out of the ground as little time as possible. Drying of the roots can be fatal. Get it into the ground, and gently return the better-draining soil you have created to the hole around the roots. Stick a hose down into the soil and let it drip slowly until water appears on the surface. Do this two or three times a week until the tree seems well established. If the water remains on the soil more than a half hour or so, it is still draining poorly. Trees cannot survive with too much water around their roots; they will drown. You may mulch the roots with a shredded hardwood bark to shade and protect them, as well as hold moisture in the soil. Do not mound this mulch up again the trunk of the tree, as that will promote mold. The mulch will continue to decompose and, again, contribute to the drainage around the roots. 

Quercus agrifolia

Quercus agrifolia





More Trees Questions

Lemon cypress Goldcrest in Richland MI
September 15, 2009 - Can the shrub lemon cypress survive a southern Michigan winter? If so, how does one care for it?
view the full question and answer

Removing Texas cedar Juniperus ashei from Blanco River banks
February 26, 2014 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, Should cedar trees be removed from our Blanco River banks to prevent them from sucking too much of our precious water before it makes it into the river system? If so, what s...
view the full question and answer

Problems with Anacacho Orchid tree in Austin
May 17, 2010 - I have an Anacacho Orchid that is about 9ft tall. It is early May and has not started to put out leaves yet on the old growth. I can't even see any noticeable buds yet. It is still alive because I ha...
view the full question and answer

Cover oak roots with a pond from Round Rock TX
December 22, 2012 - Hello! I have looked for this answer. We have 2 huge old beautiful live oaks. One is very close to the patio and house, and the other is about 20 feet of the house. Thus, part of their root systems ar...
view the full question and answer

Failure of smoke tree to bloom in Alburtis PA
September 07, 2009 - For whatever reason, my smoke tree did not bloom during its second season. Any ideas?
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center