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  • Shelby Pietersen

How to Transplant Fruit Trees

Fruit trees are arguably the best and most important plants people can grow in their gardens.


These trees provide us with good, healthy food, fantastic scenery, habitat and food for animals and birds, and an excellent excuse to wander out through the orchard (or garden).


There are several reasons you might need to transplant a fruit tree. Most fruit trees are difficult for beginner gardeners to grow from seed, and every tree will need to be transplanted from its original pot to its final growing location.


You may also need to move older trees if they're at risk of damage from building or landscaping activities. In every case, it's important to plan your transplant carefully, because even vigorous specimens can suffer severe damage from transplant shock.


1. Timing

While some fruit trees can withstand planting at any time of year, most should be moved in early spring before their active growth phase, or during the cold season when the tree is dormant.


You risk killing the tree if you move it when it has already begun to show signs of bud swelling.


2. Site Preparation

Before transplanting any tree, select a long-term site a suitable distance from other trees. Avoid sites with compacted soil, as well as areas close to power lines, driveways, fences, buildings and other structures.


Quick note: As arborists, this is something we encounter often. It is never a fun experience to remove a beautiful, mature tree due to badly planned planting.


Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball of the tree you wish to transplant. If the soil is dry, fill the hole with water the day before transplanting to prevent the tree from drying out.


3. Moving Existing Trees

Dig up established trees with care to avoid severing important roots. Mature trees can be heavy so you may need to use additional support. Tools such as an arborist block and tackle can be used to help remove them from their existing location.


Dig up all trees by hand, making a trench around the outside edge of the canopy and digging down 15 to 24 inches to avoid the major roots. Use a sharp spade to cut minor roots cleanly. Wrap the root ball in damp burlap or other material until you can plant the tree.


4. Planting

Inspect both seedlings and established fruit trees thoroughly before planting. Trim off any

damaged or kinked roots, then lower the tree into its new location slowly.


Spread the roots out in the planting hole to prevent girdling. Back-fill the hole with topsoil to the same depth at which it was originally planted. Remember to mulch the area around the tree with organic material, keeping the mulch three to six inches away from the trunk. Water the transplanted fruit tree only when the soil around the trunk has become dry.​


Considerations

If you must move a tree, do so when it is relatively small. Older fruit trees are much more likely to suffer from transplant shock, and they may not survive the planting process.


Even younger trees may have a smaller crop or reduced growth the year following a transplant.


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