(Image credit: Zbynek Pospisil)

Few gardeners plant a tree with the idea of transplanting it some years later. While planting a young tree is not difficult, transplanting a mature tree is not a small matter. Transplanting mature fruit trees is even more delicate. 

How to transplant an apple tree? What is lemon tree transplant shock? Can mature fruit trees be transplanted? Read on for answers to fruit tree transplant questions. 

Best Time to Transplant Fruit Trees

Transplanting young, newly purchased fruit trees is a matter of getting the timing and the procedure right. The best time to transplant fruit trees is usually spring, but the options depend on the presentation of the tree. 

Bare root, packaged, and field-potted fruit trees must be planted early in spring. Containerized, contain-grown and ball and burlap fruit trees can go into the ground at any time during the growing season. 

How to Plant a Fruit Tree

Preparing the planting site is an essential step to making your new fruit tree happy. Work the soil well, adding mature organic compost. Dig a hole in the worked soil bigger than the root ball, breaking up the sides of the hole to permit the roots to easily establish. Never prune the roots to fit into a smaller hole, but any broken roots or diseased roots should be trimmed off. 

Slightly different planting instructions apply depending on the tree presentation. Bare root trees, for example, require a mound of soil at the bottom of the growing hole on which the roots will be spread. Care must be taken with ball and burlap trees to keep as much of the soil in the rootball as possible.

All trees, however, should be planted at about the same level they were in the ground earlier. Water well to eliminate air bubbles. Add mulch, keeping it a few inches from the trunk itself. If necessary, stake the young tree.

Caring for Your Fruit Tree

The transplant itself can be challenging to a young fruit tree. Termed “transplant shock,” the tree can quickly decline and even die. This usually can be avoided by proper soil preparation and site selection, combined with ample irrigation in the weeks after transplant.

A transplanted fruit tree needs water. Make it a priority to offer the tree between 5 and 7 gallons of water to the root ball area of the tree every week. For the first two weeks, divide this water into three portions on three different days to make sure the root areas stay moist. 

Transplanting Mature Fruit Trees

What if the fruit tree you wish to transplant is not a new, young tree but an established one, a tree that has produced fruit for some years? Generally, large, mature fruit trees do not transplant well, and trying to move them is a real risk. The general rule is that the larger the tree and the older the tree, the more difficult the transplant.

Carefully consider your choices. If the choice is between attempting a transplant or cutting down the tree, you don’t have much to lose by trying. For a large fruit tree, you will do best to call in a professional to dig out the tree and transport it to the new site. 

For a small tree, like a dwarf Meyer lemon for example, you may be able to tackle the digging yourself. Prepare the new site well and lift out the tree’s root ball with utmost care. Place it on a tarp and get help to carry it to the new location. 

Teo Spengler

Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.