Transplanting Joshua Trees

Kathleen Roberts
Lone tree in the dessert.

Transplanting Joshua Trees can be a risky undertaking. This Pacific Southwest native is very picky about where it will grow, with the Mojave Desert being the only place in the world that it can be found. If you want to try transplanting Joshua Trees yourself, this article will tell you the best way to go about it. In addition, you will learn how to start one from seed. Good luck!

Joshua Tree

The Joshua Tree, or yucca brevifolia, is a unique tree that only grows in the desert in parts of California, Arizona, Utah and Nevada. It prefers the higher elevations of 2000 to 6000 feet. Hardy in gardening zones six through 10, this tree prefers hot, arid growing conditions.

Two sets of roots are another feature that makes the Joshua Tree different. The first set of roots reaches 10 to 30 feet under the soil and forms large bulbs on the ends. These roots store water for use during dry times when water is scarce. New trees are formed from the bulbs. The second set is much shallower and absorbs any surface moisture.

The spiny, evergreen leaves of the Joshua Tree reach up into the sky to collect moisture which runs down the branches and trunk to those shallow roots. Flowers are also formed in large clusters on the branches. These flowers only bloom at night, and some say the fragrance is reminiscent of coconut.

Pollination occurs when the Yucca moth, the only pollinator of this tree, collects pollen and injects it into other Joshua Tree flowers while at the same time it lays its own eggs. When the eggs hatch the larvae will eat some of the seeds from their host tree. Still, many seeds are left in the green and brown fruit which will later fall to the ground and germinate under the parent tree.

Joshua Tree Seeds

To grow a Joshua Tree from seed you will need peat pots that are four to six inches high. Another option is to make pots from newspaper. Fill your pots to within two inches of the top with a well draining soil. Place seeds on top of the soil and cover with one eighth to one quarter inch of soil.

Pots should be placed in full sun, in a shallow tray of water to allow moisture to be absorbed from the bottom. Soil should be kept moist until the seeds have sprouted which, if the conditions are right, should take two to three weeks. Joshua Tree seeds prefer temperatures that are 60 degrees Fahrenheit or above. Once they have sprouted they need to dry out between watering, which at this point should be about every two days.

Transplanting Seedlings

Seedlings can be easily transplanted when they are about one and one quarter inches tall. To do this, remove the bottom of your peat or newspaper pot and place the whole thing into a tall pot filled with the correct soil mixture. Your potting mixture should consist of two parts sand, two parts perlite and one part humus. The addition of a long lasting fertilizer to the soil will keep your seedlings healthy. Place your Joshua Tree seedlings in a place that receives indirect light with a temperature of 85 degrees or above. Seedlings prefer the indirect light because it simulates the light under a parent tree as the seedling grows. Your seedlings will resemble a tall blade of grass and it will take several years for it to finally look like a real tree.

Transplanting Joshua Trees

If you prefer, you can purchase a larger tree instead of starting from seed. A purchased tree needs to be planted as soon as possible after being dug up to increase its chance of surviving. If a Joshua Tree has been dug up more than a week or two before you are ready to plant it, its success rate will drop dramatically.

Here are the steps for transplanting Joshua Trees:

  1. Dig a hole about the same size as the butt of the tree in sandy, well drained soil.
  2. Before placing the tree in its hole, put water into the hole to make a thin, muddy mixture.
  3. Now place the tree into the mud and rock it gently back and forth to eliminate air pockets under the roots. Air pockets provide a place for fungal and bacterial growth that can kill your tree.
  4. Next, backfill the hole to the original soil line.
  5. Tamp down the soil around your tree.
  6. Water the soil again.

If you feel that your new Joshua Tree may not hold up to the wind and elements without being uprooted, you can plant it a bit deeper. Look on the trunk for a color change from gray to a reddish or brown color. This is where the trunk was previously beneath the ground. Plant your tree no more than four to six inches above this line; any more and the tree trunk will rot. Your transplant can also be staked for additional support if desired.

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Transplanting Joshua Trees