Sisterhood Of The Traveling Plants

If you guys have read this old post, you already know half of this story. For the rest of you, here we go. Way back in 2007, right before we got married – and before we even started this blog – my parents gave us a tiny Japanese maple. It was a little 24″ offshoot that had started growing near the large maple in their backyard. We planted the tiny little thing in our backyard, said a few plant prayers for it, and it grew a smidge in the 3+ years it lived there… though we don’t really have any photographic evidence of it.

Since it was meaningful to us – having some wedding significance and having come from my childhood home – we dug it up before selling that house and brought it with us when we moved to our second house. Perhaps you’re starting to see where this story is going.

Since our last move took place in the winter, we were almost certain that our transplantation efforts killed it. But much to our surprise, it survived

… and even managed to grow a bit bigger, although you never really noticed it in photos because it got lost amongst some other purple bushes that grew in around it.

Since our last move, my parents have moved out of my childhood home making this little tree even more special to us. So of course we had to dig it up and bring it with us again, even if it’s not as little now. Note: dig up your plant before you put your house on the market since anything in the ground during showings is expected to convey unless you indicate that it’s coming with you in the contract.

Digging it up was pretty easy. I made a wide hole around it and then gently lifted and wiggled until it came loose. The root ball seemed to be pretty small, so I was able to fit it into a plastic bin that I had handy. It had become a bit heavier since its last move, which is how Sherry captured this not-so-flattering shot of me hoisting it up while getting a leaf to the eye.

We decided to move it over to the new house as soon as we dug it up – just so it wasn’t in the way during showings. It barely fit in our car, but barely works just fine for us. Even if it means Sherry has to ride in the backseat with maple leaves up her nose. We secretly wondered if other drivers would think we were cruising around with a giant marijuana plant in our car, just begging to be arrested. But no one stopped us. We’re not sure if we’re relieved or concerned.

It sat in our new backyard for a while (through showings and moving and us getting settled for a few weeks) and then we buckled down and said “we have to get this thing in the ground before we kill it” (we had drilled a few holes in the bottom of the bin for drainage but knew it wasn’t going to thrive in there forever). Finding a new spot for it was a little challenging because there are still so many question marks about our landscaping, but we decided this spot on the periphery of the woods that surround our deck is a safe bet. That way it’s visible from the house and has plenty of room to grow (unlike last time).

Now we just have to cross our fingers that transplanting it in the heat of summer didn’t kill it. We used some compost and some garden soil when we planted it – just to give it the best shot we could – and thanks to lots of rain lately, it seems to be doing ok so far.

Actually, our main worry has been the deer. Of which (if you’ve been following our Instagram) we see lots of lately. We know they like to eat some low-lying shrubs, but so far our maple seems unappetizing. I even caught this one giving it a sniff and then wandering off. Move along, little buddy. Move along.

Anyone else have success (or failures) transplanting things? Or do you have any sentimental items (flora or otherwise) that have made a few moves with you? We can’t believe this maple is now living in its 4th yard, counting my parents’ place where it was “born.” They grow up so fast. Single tear.


  1. Kori says

    I think it’s amazing that you’ve been able to hang onto this, not so little guy anymore. Very sentimental….which is what makes me love this blog so much! :)

  2. audra says

    We have 2 Japanese Maples in our front yard! They flank the front steps and my husband loves them. They were both birthday gifts from his (over 2 years). When my family moved from Europe back to the States, my mom hand carried flowers (Gerbera Daisies, tulip bulbs, etc.) on the plane for our home. When they sold the home years ago, the new owners said the wanted the flowers to stay (even though we wanted to dig them up and transplant them). A few months later, I drove by the old house, and the new owners had dug up all the flowers. It broke my heart!

  3. Amy says

    Our house is on the market, so I dug up the mum transplant my aunt gave me in fall 2011. The plant originally belonged to my grandmother, who left her home of 50+ years in about 2004 and died in 2009. The piece I planted had maybe a fist-sized root ball and I didn’t think it would make it. Ha! It grew to be HUGE in just it’s first growing season. Maybe neighbors thought it was multiple plants. Even the aunt who gave me the transplant was shocked. Needless to say, I am taking it with me!

  4. says

    Aww, that’s really sweet! I love that you did that and love it even more that it’s survived and the deer seem to be leaving it alone.

    We bought a dwarf Japanese maple 2 years ago to replace the dead bush we yanked out in the front yard. We worried about planting it because we’d never done it, would we kill it? It grew a little last year and we were excited to see the little buds in the spring. This year, he’s really taken off and is growing like crazy. If you have any pruning tips for them to keep them manageable, feel free to pass them along! :)

    • Lesley says

      My husband is perennially annoyed that the prior/original owners of our Japanese maple didn’t prune it to maintain an nice tight shape, but I secretly like that it’s … interesting. I only prune so we can see out of our front window and to make sure it doesn’t block the access path between ours and our neighbour’s house.

      I looked up maintenance tips and found the following:
      For tree shape, the University of Florida explains that branches that extend to the ground give Japanese maples a favorable aesthetic quality, but in residential areas, drooping branches may be pruned back.

      I’d leave it since you have the space for it to be natural.

    • Jennifer V says

      Perhaps I am a little cavalier in my approach to tree care. But I have pruned the #@~! out of my japanese maple tree and it keeps growing bigger. Stray branch blocking the path? Cut it back. I have also pruned up the lower lying branches to give it shape. Granted, I don’t have any emotional attachment to the plants in my yard, but I haven’t lost a plant/tree yet due to my tactics. Good luck!

    • Liz E. says

      For a Japanese Maple, pruning is only really necessary in a couple instances: to maintain a certain shape and if damage occurs. I personally like to just let them grow (they make such a fantastic abstract shape!) but I do prune off lower branches, as I don’t want mine to look bushy. My parents have one that they bought probably at least 15 years ago (it was about the size yours is now–maybe a bit smaller), have next-to-never pruned it and it’s gorgeous! Most Japanese maples are pretty deer-resistant. You could always spray a deer deterrent if you wanted to, while it’s acclimating. Oh, and as one of your neighbors (WV, I mean :). It’s one hot summer already!)just keep it watered and it should do just fine.

  5. Kristy says

    I picked up an acorn of a giant oak from my elementary school playground when I left 4th grade. We planted it in tupperware and it grew. Transplanted to my mom’s flowerbed where it grew even more. My dad decided to move it to a permanent home outside my bedroom so I could see it grow. It was over 3 feet tall and the taproot had grown so deep that my dad had to practically dig up the entire flower bed and eventually had to cut the taproot (we figure it’s popping up somewhere in China). We thought for sure that we had killed it by cutting the taproot off, but now 23 years later it’s a good 23 feet tall and then some. My parents moved 2 years ago and I live 1500 miles away. I wish I could have taken Tree with, but alas, definitely no longer in a portable stage. Good luck with Maple!

    • hillary says

      That is SO cool! If you ever are in that neighborhood again, I’m sure the current owners would love to know the story of the tree. I know I would! I have so many questions for the former owners of our home along those lines.

  6. says

    After sharing this post with my husband he reminded me that we had seen someone transporting trees in the back of their truck the other day (likely from the local Free Trees Giveaway at a green composting site).

    He suggested, “a car company needs to capitalize on that- making a car for transporting trees.” When I told him I’m sure something probably exists, he responded, “Yes, but they need to give it a catchy name…

    Like the Arbor-ette or the Ford Arbor 150.”

  7. April says

    Although I am not much of a gardner, I do have some plants that have sentimental value for me. I have a rose bush that was purchased but never planted by father just before he passed away. I planted in my yard, and it is beautiful. I also have roses that were in my grandmother’s yard. They were there at least twenty years – maybe closer to thirty – I have now transplanted some of those to my yard. I now have quite a nice little rose garden. Every time I look at them, I think about the people who loved them originally.

    I will keep my fingers crossed for your maple.

  8. Katie says

    Oh man. We’ve owned our house just over two years and we’ve already paid to have three trees taken down (you can’t even measure our lot in acreage…it’s in sq. feet., if that tells you anything). My mom gave me a Japanese Maple for mother’s day this year and we are hoping against hope that we don’t kill it. All the rain we’ve been getting in Georgia has been helping, but we are hopeless black thumbs. There’s no WAY we’ll be able to transplant it to a new house when we move (no time soon). We can barely keep our KID alive…I can’t be trusted with plants. Yours is looking good!

  9. dori says

    omg, dying at the image of you driving around with a giant marijuana plant as your passenger. the good news is that we have deer and they dont touch JM tree! good luck. i hope its happy at your new home!

  10. says

    A very good friend and former co-worker of mine was moving back to FL and told me if I wanted any plants out of her yard then to come pick out what I wanted (her house hadn’t sold yet). I chose a Hosta because I figured it would survive being transplanted. Well a week after planting it in my flower bed it died. I was for sure it was a total loss but never took the time to dig it up. To my surprise, this spring it turned all green and got huge! I’m so glad I didn’t dig it up and it’s a nice reminder of my friend.

  11. Kim says

    We have a lemon tree in our backyard that my husband grew from a seed off the lemon tree by our apartment in college. He used to make me fresh lemonade when we would study, and one day took a seed and planted it in a spaghetti sauce jar to see if it would grow. The tree made it across the country and is now at it’s 3rd home also, and it’s as tall as our house now!

  12. Meg says

    Wow, funny timing on this post! We are about to put our house on the market and I want to bring the Magnolia tree my husband gave me as a wedding gift. We are actually moving to the Richmond area from NY and plan on renting while getting to know the area. Hopefully the Magnolia can be transferred to my parents and then with us when we find somewhere to “settle”. Do you have any idea how Magnolia’s do in your area? It will be a little bit of a different climate down there! Thanks!

    • says

      I think they do gangbusters here. We had a giant one in the front of our second house that seemed very happy. I would maybe google around for tips on replanting them, but other than that I bet it’ll do awesome.


    • Molly O. says

      Also, in your research, it is good to keep in mind that there are different types of magnolia trees. The ones that we had in Texas are different than the ones we have in Pennsylvania…perhaps they grow different/better in different regions.

  13. says

    As a matter of fact I have transplanted two Japanese maples from my granfather’s tree to our new house in June. The bigger one was the size of yours. It died. I should have cut it back so it wouldn’t have been so stressed in the Georgia heat. The smaller one is thriving 6 years later, though its still not as big as the bigger one we planted. Ours are/were in full sun.

  14. says

    We always had this problem when I lived at my parents, since I grew up in the woods.

    I would put some small fencing around it until the leaves are no longer reachable by your friend Bambi.

    Also I’m not sure how rural your area is but when I was a kid we would put a pile of deer carrots out at our wood line that was perfectly visible from our kitchen table and we could watch the deer while having dinner.

    This may be a bad idea based on your baiting laws and if there are a lot of high traffic roads near by to bring in more deer for car/deer accidents. But if not it would be really fun for you guys to watch. :)

    • Amanda says

      My dentist owns a plot of land that is over-run with deer. He is in the process of clearing out the old trees and replacing them with new ones but he kept having the deer eat all of them. Someone told him to take a bar of Irish Spring and hang it from the tree and it would keep the deer away. I just asked him how it was going and he said, although not scientifically conclusive, his trees are all still in tact and the deer didn’t eat the lilacs this year like the did last year. So……if you have a tree you want to protect, his method is to get some knee high pantyhose (great use for those with runs in them), put the soap inside the hose and tie it to the tree. For the smaller trees, he cut the bar in half. When we move out to the country (hopefully soon!), I will be doing this little trick as the house we are supposed to move to is in the middle of a bunch of corn fields and there are deer everywhere. I need to ward them off somehow – keep them around the perimeter and not in the yard.

    • Kimberly says

      We put grated Irish Spring bar soap around all our plants that we want the deer to stay away from. Works great for us!

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