How To Move Older Fruit Trees

moving the apricotTo compensate for the big work that is growing your own, us food gardeners are always seeking efficiencies. Ever reaching for the holy grail that is lots of healthy, productive edibles in less space with ever decreasing amounts of work. Hence my winter work to re-organise my fruit trees.

Four 5 year old pears and a 3 year old apricot have been dug and shifted. Bringing them closer together in a bid to create a canopy to shade out much of the grass. My original well spaced plan was to accommodate grazing KuniKuni’s beneath. I hadn’t lived with pigs when I made that lofty plan. I know pigs now. I know how they transform stuff – water troughs, shrubs, fence posts – with their vigorous scratching. What was up, goes down. Ergo, I’ve changed my mind about pigs and fruit trees sharing space.

You too may be wishing to change it up. Perhaps your fruit trees are in the shade, or in a soggy spot; or perhaps your circumstances have evolved, as have mine. Don’t be afraid to move older trees around. It’s worth the effort to improve their lot for better crops. Mitigate the risk by taking good old fashioned care.

How to move a fruit tree.

Choose your new possy carefully. You don’t want to do this again, for your sakes as much as the trees.

Dig a hole

Make a hole about a spade deep by about at least a metre wide.

  • For heavy soils push your garden fork into the bottom of the hole several times, wiggling it all around.
  • For sand line the bottom with wet newspaper topped with a layer of original soil mixed with a bit of compost.

Prune your tree

Small roots cannot keep big tops alive, they need to be in equilibrium. Prune it as per usual. If it’s a big tree take off  more height and length than you would normally. Best done pre shift.

Cut it free

Using a spade (a sharp spade will save your body and cut the roots cleanly) cut a circle about 40cm out from the trunk, all the way around the tree. Hark back to seaside castle making days – make a moat, about a spade deep. Cut through roots as you go. Try to capture as good a network of the fine feeder roots on top as you can.

sever the roots underneath

Now to severing the roots beneath. Starting from the bottom of the moat push the spade under the tree, wriggling  and pushing as you go, to free the roots. Work your way all around. Then push the trunk over to one side as far as it will comfortably go. Cut any attached tap roots. Push to the other side and sever the last attachments.

Drag it onto a tarp or if you are strong as an ox, lift it into your wheelbarrow.

Don’t obsess over keeping the dirt around the roots, it’s gonna fall off. Never fear, you can pack more in when you transplant it.

Even though a cup of tea sounds really good about now. Keep at it. Get those roots below ground where they belong.

Plant it

Position your tree in the new hole with care. Face the weak side north, it’ll fill out in the light. A nice opportunity don’t you think?

Be sure the roots are going out or down, that none are bent over. I know you’ve already busted your body, but you need to go the whole hog – dig more in whatever direction is needed to keep the remaining roots as long as possible. I hear you pondering cutting them off – oh don’t be lazy!, make a home for any roots that are longer than your hole. My finished hole usually looks like a starfish as I scrape extra lengths here and there to lay a root end in.

Use your fingers to push dirt under the tree – filling in as many air pockets as poss. Once the underneath is packed as tight as you can get it start filling dirt in between the roots. Pack the soil in firmly, so a tug doesn’t budge the tree. Give a generous dusting of rock solid and then lightly water it in. The water will further settle the soil around the roots. Stake well, and mulch generously.

Transplanted Apricot

Treat them special for the coming year as they re-establish. Take off all the fruits so the trees can focus on growing another big, strong set of roots. Water them through dry spells. Cross your fingers.



  1. Great tips. I just moved two lemon trees to make way for zucchini planting. Happy harvesting!