Transplanting a magnolia seedling

My parents big old magnolia tree, while we weren’t watching, has spawned a baby magnolia tree. It’s right at the edge of the big magnolia “footprint”, so it has to come out. I’m trying very hard to move out and get a house, and I was thinking it might be nice to take Tree Jr. with me.

The tree is pretty well established - it’s maybe as tall as my waist. Can it easily be transplanted with the kind of tools we’ve got around? How far down are the roots on a tree like that? Are they really spread out? How exactly does one go about digging out a tree if you want it to live later? Should I wait until winter? Is this a fool’s errand?

There’s also a much smaller, maybe foot high, little sibling of Tree Jr. If it’s impractical to take the larger sapling, could I take the smaller? Would it thrive?

Hmmm…is this an independent tree that grew from seed, or is it just an offshoot…a ‘sucker’ (sucker = shoot arising from the underground part of the plant)? You need to see if the sapling is just an offshoot by pulling back some earth and determining if it is independent and grew on it’s own or whether it’s just a sucker. Suckers originating from below are unlikely to produce a desired plant and should be pruned out.

If you do have your own wee tree, you want to remove as much of the earth around it as practical and wrapped it and the rootball in burlap, using twine or wire to carefully wrap it and move it. Fall would be a good time.

The roots are likely the size of the tree top, give or take a few inches. Preserving this much root ball would be sufficient.

If you are bringing the tree to a fairly similar area, you should be fine.

All kinds of issues come to the table, as with any transplanting of a tree. You might want to read up on magnolia trees doing a simple search.

Magnolias have a very unusual root system. Unlike most other trees and shrubs, the roots are largely unbranched and rope-like. For this reason, magnolias tend to suffer more than many other trees if they are moved after they reach a large size. Most magnolias can safely be moved if the trunk is less than four inches in diameter. If you have time, sever some of the roots one year prior to moving your tree. Cut some of the roots just inside of the the rootball that you intend to dig. The roots will branch and help carry the tree through its establishment period in its new home. When you dig the tree to move it, dig a rootball as wide as you can manage; depth is less important than width since most of the roots are in the top foot of soil. Be sure to mulch your magnolia and water it frequently to keep it moist for the first season after transplanting. (
Evergreen magnolias such as southern magnolia, Magnolia grandiflora and sweetbay magnolia, Magnolia virginiana are best planted in early spring. Deciduous magnolias can be planted in autumn or early spring. Autumn is the better time to plant in the south, while northern gardeners should opt for spring planting. Apply some mulch after planting to moderate soil temperatures and moisture conditions.

So if I dig down and there’s one root thing going down, it’s a sucker, and if there’s a “normal” horizontalish root structure it’s an independent tree?

It’s a Southern magnolia, BTW.

Magnolias grow like weeds on my property. They pop up all over the place. I don’t like them because they grow too big and shade out everything else. And the fallen leaves disintegrate slowly, making a huge mess. If you manage to kill one by transplanting it, I’d like to know how. :wink:

Well, if you don’t do like our neighbors and prune them all out of magnolia shape, you never see the leaves because the branches go to the ground. I wouldn’t want them everywhere, but I love the one big one we have in the yard. It’s definately the best-looking one in the neighborhood, though.

And I love the flowers.

When you say that the big magnolia “spawned” another one, do you mean:

a. The magnolia dropped some seed that grew into a sapling and is independent


b. The magnolia roots tillered out and a little magnolia tree that is **actually part of the main magnolia ** has popped up?

If it is ‘a’, then proceed to harvest it and transplant it.

If it is ‘b’, then cut ithe stem off as close to the main tree and discard it. In case b, it’s a sucker and should be removed. In case ‘a’, you have a real sappling. In case ‘b’ the sucker can actually weaken the tree.

Yes, I get that, but how can you tell? I didn’t see it happen. Will a sucker not have any kind of normal-looking root structure when I dig down?

A sucker will not have a normall looking root structure. It won’t have a root structure per se, since it sucks all it’s energy off the tree.

Something tells me this is going to be backbreaking labor that tears up the lawn regardless. :slight_smile: I’ll get out the shovel this weekend and find out what’s under there. (Maybe it’s my Least Shrews’ hideout!)

If you wanna avoid the back breaking part you could do what has worked for me, namely air layering. You basically create roots above the ground then cut the tree (or sucker) just below (but still above ground) the newly grown root mass.

It can be as quick as 3 weeks or as long as a year before you have a ready to plant tree. Here is step by step:

N.B. There are many ways to air layer. If you choose to attempt this, google and try the method that seems best for you.