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SALI GOLD: Stellenbosch Historical Tree Rescues

Surrounded by the magnificent mountain scenery of the Jonkershoek valley lies the historic town of Stellenbosch, the country’s second oldest town, after Cape Town.
It has become known as ‘the town of oaks’. These trees being abundant. Some of the oaks have been proclaimed national monuments. When Governor Simon van der Stel first visited the area in November 1679 he was much taken by its beauty. The name Stellenbosch (‘Van der Stel’s bush’) was given to the site of the governor’s camp, and by the following year the first settlers had arrived from Cape Town. There was ample water from the river and the streets were lined with furrows, which brought the water to every house and subsequently the oak trees were planted.

The Request

The Stellenbosch Municipality wanted to rescue their mature oak trees that were in the way of the planned road works to widen the Adam Tas road.

Trees SA assessed the viability for relocation and found that it would be possible to do a direct relocation. New planting positions were identified in front of the Post Office and opposite the historical “Die Braak” sites. The municipality also needed mature trees that could withstand the public access. They have in the past planted smaller trees at the sites which continually died due to the public and also due to bad root systems. They tried to plant smaller trees 4 times before they decided to rather rescue and relocate their mature trees.

For the mature trees, an important requirement from the client was the need for strong pedestrian staking to keep the trees upright and also protect them from vandalism. Trees SA designed and installed this custom staking.

The Process

A total of 16 mature trees were relocated. Herewith a detailed description of the phasing of execution that was required:


Phase 1: 2004-07-01 Direct relocation of Die Braak trees

Trees were dug out by hand and prepared for direct transport. The rootballs were balled and burlapped with non-galvanized wire before transportation. This ensured minimal disturbance to the rootball. This process is followed according to international tree transplanting procedures.


The trees were then transported in UPRIGHT position on the trucks. This is unique since trees are usually transported at a horizontal angle to transport on large roads. The reason for the upright positional transportation is less disturbance to the trees as well as being able to transport more trees on one load. This was a big challenge because we had to find a route where there where no bridges or overhead utility lines, which resulted in having to transport the trees via a detour route to their new location.


Trees were then planted using the help of a crane to lift them into position. Holes then filled with soil and compost by hand.

Phase 2: 2004-07-02 Smaller trees that were planted by the municipality were removed and found that they had insufficient root structures (see photo).

Phase 3: 2004-07-15 Custom pedestrian staking installed at Die Braak’s trees


The triangular pedestrian staking is required to keep the trees upright and also to protect them from public vandalism. It is installed using Class 3 machined poles. Split-cut poles were used to cross-brace the triangle, providing superior strength to the structure. 50mm black webbing belts were used to secure the tree to the structure. The vertical poles were 1.6m deep. All poles are treated and webbing is UV resistant.

Phase 4: 2004-08-05 to 2004-08-11 Direct relocation of mature trees to Post Office


The exact same process was followed whereby Trees SA dug out the trees by hand and balled and burlapped them with non-galvinised wire. These trees were also transported in the UPRIGHT position, which turned quite a few heads as we made our way through the “town of oaks” with the oaks moving along on the truck!

Phase 5: Custom pedestrian staking installed at the Post Office trees


This type of pedestrian staking is a custom design by Trees SA. It ensures the tree is stabilised and protects it from the pedestrians. 

Phase 6: 2004-11-20 Trees revisited by Dag to assess health. It was found that they are already thriving in their new positions, a mere 2 months post relocation!!

Phase 7: 2007-04-16 Trees revisited by Dag to assess health. Trees have become independent from artificial watering and relocated deemed a success. Trees have established in their new environment. The leaves have already started showing early autumn colours!

The Challenge

The most challenging factor to this specialized landscape construction was the installation of the trees on the busy sidewalk of Stellenbosch Post Office. Navigating vehicle and foot traffic to ensure the safety of the public was one of our major concerns. We had to ensure that the holes that were prepped before the time were clearly marked with danger tape. We had to leave the sites at the end of the day neat and tidy.

The second challenging factor was the direct relocation. It is a risk to directly relocate a tree without letting it rehabilitate in the nursery for a few years.

The third factor is the size of the trees. Weighing 2-3 tons and with heights of 6 to 10 metres and crowns of 4 to 8 metres required some technical skill to transport as well as Arboricultural knowledge of how to prune the crown and reduce the rootballs to optimal size for transportation as well as survival.

The last challenging factor is the tree monitoring. It was challenging because the trees were in a public space and therefore dripper pipes were at risk of destruction and theft. We had to continually check that the trees were getting enough water from the municipality. Our constant care and concern for the trees led to their successful establishment in their new environment. Without tree monitoring, the possibility for the failure of the relocation would have been much higher.

The Result

Successful rescue and relocation of mature trees!

The public of Stellenbosch can now enjoy the shade and oxygen these trees provide and have not lost their precious oak trees!

Below are photos of the trees THRIVING and completely INDEPENDENT after 14 years! 


Trees SA was awarded a GOLDEN SALI Award of Excellence in 2019 for this project.



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