The $10,000 Tree

Conventional wisdom dictates that those who want a tree buy a sapling and wait a decade for boughs with decent foliage. Instant-gratification seekers, however, can hit fast-forward by importing an already-mature specimen. But owning a leafy, towering maple or dogwood can require deep pockets and serious machinery, says Patrick Dale of Dale Tree Movers & Tree Farm in East Falmouth. The tab for a 25-foot-tall weeping beech, for instance, can reach $10,000 by the time it’s firmly re-rooted in your backyard.

SITE SEEING Because most homes have utility lines crisscrossing their properties, Dale first makes sure every dig site is clear. He also assesses the sunlight, drainage, and soil quality of each location. Planting close to a house or under power lines are both big no-nos, since a tree’s roots and branches need ample space to spread out.

SIZED UP Evergreens are generally priced by height; a 20-foot spruce ranges from $1,800 to $3,600 installed. Deciduous trees are valued according to the diameter of their trunks; a sugar maple with a 6-inch trunk might cost $3,600.

TAKING ROOT A support system of wires and stakes, which stays in place for a year or two, is necessary to stabilize most newly replanted trees. Dale refers clients to local companies for post-transplant maintenance, but says adequate watering is the most important factor. No matter how much you pay, the difference between a happy tree and a dried-out stump can be as simple as a good, long drink.

BIG DIG Transplanting typically takes a full day. For especially big trees, Dale employs a 90-inch tree spade mounted on a truck owned by his company (smaller versions come on a Bobcat). The chosen tree, its branches tied, is excavated and wrapped in a tarp for the ride. It’s then lowered into a very precise pre-dug hole.

HEALTH CHECK Although tree farms exist, Dale buys his transplants from overburdened nurseries or homeowners who need land cleared. Each tree gets a full checkup to make sure it isn’t scarred or infected with parasitic insects or fungi. It must also have strong roots. “It should be perfect, not one-sided or leaning,” he explains. He sources most of his clients’ purchases in-state: Locally grown trees are acclimated to the weather and don’t have to endure the stress of long-distance travel.

RARE BREEDS Average adult trees typically cost $2,000 to $4,000 to buy and install, says Dale. Less common species run much higher, especially showy ones like Japanese maples, which have colorful seasonal foliage, and umbrella pines, whose glossy blue-green needles grow in spirals around their branches. But beauty isn’t the only factor, as these trees’ slow growth means mature specimens are hard to find.