If you discover that you need to move a fruit tree, whether for aesthetic reasons, to give it more sun, or to make room for a new planting, the earlier, the better. Smaller trees are better able to survive the shock of transplant, and attentive care after the transplanting process gives the tree the best shot at getting and staying healthy. Trying to maintain as many roots as possible, keeping them from getting damaged during the move, and keeping a consistent irrigation schedule in the aftermath will help you get your fruit tree from one place to another without too much suffering.
1 Choose a new site for your fruit tree that gets at least six hours of full sun a day. Preferably, the site will also have a depth of about 36 inches of well-drained soil, although fruit trees can do well in soil only 12 inches deep as long as their irrigation needs are met.
2 Estimate where to cut the fruit tree's root ball. For every inch of the trunk's width, the root ball should be about 24 inches in diameter. Measure the root ball's diameter with a tape measure, then place a string or hose in a circle to give yourself a guide before you dig.
3 Cut around the root ball in a circle with a sharp spade. Sharp cuts help roots repair themselves quicker and grow faster. Continue to cut down into the soil to a similar depth as the diameter, rounding out the root ball under the tree.
4 Lean the fruit tree to the side when the root ball is fully removed from the ground. Place a piece of burlap under the tree, wrapping the root ball with it, and secure it at the trunk with a piece of string. This keeps the soil intact and the roots protected as the fruit tree is moved to its new location.
5 Dig a new hole for the fruit tree with a shovel. It should have a diameter of at least twice the root ball's diameter so that the young roots are growing through looser soil. The new hole's depth should be equal to the root ball's. If the sides of the new hole contain clay, create grooves in the sides with your spade so the roots will have an easier time breaking through.
6 Set the fruit tree in the hole at the new site, ensuring that the soil line on the trunk from the original planting site is approximately 1 to 2 inches above the soil. This gives the fruit tree space to settle into the ground without ending up so deep that crown rot may occur.
7 Replace the soil you removed from the hole, tamping it gently so that the soil is firm and free of air pockets but not compacted. Cut the burlap away as you tamp the soil around the root ball, but leave the bit that the root ball rests on. Cover the area above the root ball with a 3- to 6-inch layer of mulch to conserve moisture and prevent weed growth, and water slowly with 2 to 5 gallons.
Items you will need
- Plan to transplant fruit trees in early spring as soon as you can work the soil and before the tree begins to develop new growth. Your fruit tree will do best in its new site with an entire growing season to establish its root system; strengthening its root system is a tree's biggest challenge after transplantation.
- University of California Cooperative Extension: Fruit Trees: Planting and Care of Young Trees
- University of Maine Cooperative Extension: Planting and Early Care of Fruit Trees
- Clemson Cooperative Extension: Newly Planted Trees: Strategies for Survival
- Iowa State University Extension and Outreach: Transplanting Small Trees
- Thinkstock/Comstock/Getty Images