Moving mature trees

Each time we (wife and I) buy a rental property, I plant the yard with fruit trees. This is the first time I’m not buying any new trees. Instead, I decided to thin out my existing trees from home and move some to the new rental.

This should:
1.) allow more space/sun for the remaining trees
2.) larger trees of good varieties for the rental, as it looks to be a tough year to find a lot of selection online
3.) save $

Today, I hit the snag in the plan…actually doing it.

I planted a few potted trees last week, a plum that I grafted to a sucker and potted up last spring and a jujube that I ordered last spring and didn’t end up planting. Not bad at all- the soil there was actually much easier to work than at my house.

But today, I started digging up trees and it got a lot tougher.

The first tree was a M27 apple which was planted in 2011 and has gotten pretty large (at least, as large as M27 mini-dwarf trees get, about 7’ tall).

I dug around and tried to gently lift the tree out. Not so easy, though I eventually got it.

But, there were quite a few lost roots. I’m guessing M27 rootstock being fairly brittle didn’t help.

The next tree, a Coco jujube planted in 2018 (4 years in ground):

So, I decided to try to wash the dirt away from the roots with a hose (good that it was ~63F today).

This worked better, but it took quite a while:

Of course, the next problem was getting them in my car (an SUV). This is just one tree, the Coco (which does have nasty thorns):

The roots (and branches) go from one side to the other and the top sticks out a bit:

Obviously, there isn’t room for the 2nd tree (the Red Boskoop). It’s roots were much smaller (at least given how I dug it), so it got put into a bag and tied to the top of the car. Not my favorite way to travel (I kept the speed down to ~25mph and had to pull over a number of times to let people by.

Of course, planting wasn’t all that easy either, especially for the Coco with the massive roots (maybe 5’ wide when stretched out). After digging a pretty large hole, I put in the stake, then tied the tree in place. After that, I went around and dug a bit more in the spots where roots stuck well past the hole. In a few places, I just used the shovel to lift the lawn and slide the root under it…

You would think that 3 buckets and all the dirt on the plastic would be enough, but I ended up needing more to properly cover the roots. Luckily, the Red Boskoop hole actually had extra (that area didn’t have as much lawn to discard from the hole location, so I snagged 2 extra buckets from there. I’ll go back tomorrow with woodchips to further cover everything.

These 2 trees left me pretty tired- 5 hours of digging and carrying. But I had just enough daylight to do one more small one from a nearby rental. The persimmon there (grafted to Chinebuli last spring) sent out a sucker which grew to over 6’ tall from both leaders.

First priority was to not hurt the mother tree, so I gently dug, then cut the main connecting root. After that, it was still a bit of work to get it out, but not that bad. And it was a whole lot easier to plant too.

The current plan has ~18 trees being planted (5 of which are now in), but many are potted (figs and a couple more potted jujubes) or smaller trees. There are still 3-4 more decent sized trees. I may plan on doing 1 tree per day for those on days when I need to stop by anyway. That will better space out my exercise, as I got a bit too much today…


I ran out of breath just reading this post :upside_down_face:


That’s some move. I also dug out some large tree’s (8+foot) this winter. I must admit, i took less care of getting all the roots than you did. I have a lot of respect for the time and sweat you put into that!

Boskoop is from the country I’m in. It’s known for growing really large and not liking to much pruning. Seems like M27 was a wise choice. How’s the fruit from it? But not surprising it went a little over expected M27 size.

You probably already did. But just to be sure ill mention.
When moving the tree, is also an excellent time to prune the aboveground part. If you “lost” a lot of roots, you want to prune more above ground. To keep the tree balanced.


I don’t normally try for “balance”. I figure the more leaves, the more energy it can pull in to grow some roots. Of course, in extreme situations it might be needed.

I did cut back a side branch on the Coco to better fit in the car and will probably cut a bit more as normal pruning to ensure sun exposure. But, I saved a good portion of it’s roots by using the hose, so I think it will be OK.

I may cut the Red Boskoop back a bit, even if only to graft another variety on it. This will be the only apple at the site, so I’ll need to make sure there is some pollination.

Large and acidic. Sometimes it gets decent sugars and is OK. I don’t mind the acid, though I think it would put most people off a bit. I think I’ve tried storing it (to reduce acidity) and don’t remember any coming through very well, as there is often minor damage. It also tends to drop a lot of fruit, compared to most apples. As you can see, there was a reason I didn’t put as much effort into the Boskoop as I did the Coco (which has very good fruit, though it hasn’t been that productive so far).

One of the reasons I moved those 2 trees (and one earlier that I moved on-site) was to eliminate a double-row. Most of my rows are about 12’ apart. But when I planted this row, it was a slightly staggered zig-zag, but only about 5’ spacing in both directions. I wanted to ensure that my Massandra and Xu Zhou jujubes (both of which have been productive) have enough space to grow and to do that, the other half of the row needed to go.

It does leave a wider than normal strip before the next row. My thought now is to put in a raised row of day neutral strawberries to take advantage of the good soil I’ve created there over the years with constant mulching.

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I like the idea of using what you have on hand. I enjoyed learning about your process, thanks for sharing!

I moved a pear that I put in last year. Thought there would not be many roots. Wrong. I ended up mangling the roots and probably set it back a couple years. Should have used the garden hose. The hose really saves a lot of roots. I’m a fan of the classic mud slurry for digging up as well as planting.

I’ve been taught it’s generally the other way around. I think of a tree as a water pump where the leaves are emitters, the wood the water tank, and the roots as inlets. If the inlets are reduced the emitters will eventually exhaust the tanks and run the tree out of water. The tree will try to respond by dropping leaves and branches but too much out of balance can be unrecoverable.


i agree. I also think of it like a hormonal balance. The roots and growing shoots produce different hormones that stimulate the other.

To little roots compared to top tree, and the top wil be severely growth limited. This can lead to more flower bud development (and little to no shoot growth) if this is desirable depends on the situation. In some situations it can lead to the tree “runting out”

But root pruning is thus also a tool to get more fruitfulness. I know in my country in pear orchards it’s becoming an often used tool to root prune with a tractor pulled blade. To dwarf tree’s that are getting to big in the row. Or to dwarf whole row’s. If there has been an external factor that lead to lower fruit load and thus the whole row growing to big.

This source discribes the runting out in English

if seen transplanted tree’s that weren’t pruned (enough) runt out. No or only an inch or two of new shoot growth is often the first sign. In some situations the next year it will correct itself. Some times you need to defruit the tree to get it back to being healthy.

I just always prune when transplanting larger tree’s. (1-2 year old tree’s tend to not runt out so fast for me)

I get that in extreme situations (big tree above and just a whisp of roots) you’ll have problems. But, even if it is a bit un-even, I prefer not to cut back the top more than I would anyway for pruning (ensuring good sun penetration). Jujubes don’t grow that fast at most of the locations and that is doubly true for M27 apples, so I don’t really want to cut a ton out of the trees.

Also important for some of the trees is that they are going along the fence with the neighbor. When I was getting his OK to cut back a tree on his side (North of fence, but hanging over), he was asking how tall the trees I put in would be. Taller being better, in his view from a privacy perspective, so it’s a good thing to keep them reasonably tall.

Today I did one more big one (and a smaller, ~6’ tall (2 year old grafted rootstock). The small one wasn’t that hard, but the big one took a while to hose out of the ground.

It (a Li jujube with a number of grafts) is probably (I’;; measure next time I’m over) over 10 feet tall. It didn’t fit very well into the car- hanging out by almost 6’.

You may be able to notice the small white dot on it. I marked where South was, so that I’ll be able to property located the various grafts when the tree is at the new location. I normally note down grafts using a coordinate system, such as 4.5’, SSW (relative to trunk), 65 degree, tilt NW (angle of the scion, which I leave blank if it is the same as the location, ie pointed straight out). This tree has ~8 grafts of 4 varieties (Yazoo Li, Xu Zhou, and 2 mystery varieties which lost their label in my scion bag, but I figured they must be better than Li :slight_smile: ).

One thing I forgot to mention in my original post is that any roots which don’t make it can be repurposed as rootstocks. I haven’t tried this much, but my success rate is 100% (1 in 1 try).

Back in January 2019, I grafted a Kima jujube directly to the root which got broken off in my new tree order. Here’s the tree 2+ years later (remember, jujubes don’t grow very quickly when starting small)…

Since I used the hose to transplant both the big jujubes, I didn’t get a ton of roots to graft to, but I did get one the other day and 2 today (one of which was intentional, as it had a sucker on it).

emphasized text


To update this, the scion from the graft has started to wake up. Too early for a full victory declaration, but it inspired me to do some more grafts.

Today, I was starting making a raised bed to replace a couple of the trees that were removed. Having a double row of trees was too tight, but I should be able to have a raised bed of day neutral strawberries and still maintain a full pathway before the next row of trees. So, while I was working on it, I was running into more roots that didn’t come out when the jujubes were transplanted. At least, I think they are from the jujubes, at least based on where they seem to be coming from. Though I’m not sure, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see a lower take rate here, as a few could be apple roots (or peach if they came from 10-15 ft away).

In one instance, I cut a single large root up into sections, getting 3 grafts from it.

Here’s 3 Bok Jo grafts on that one root:

I ended up making 9 grafts of Bok Jo, 3 for Black Sea, and 3 of Coco. I hadn’t really wanted to do more coco, before I get more experience with the variety (decent fruit, but not too productive yet). But, I ran out of scions of the correct size in the bag I had out and didn’t want to go looking through the fridge.


How was the success rate on these root grafts?

I’m tempted to give it a try with some cuttings from a couple bare root grafted jujubes that arrived. Your trees looked dormant at the time of move so I assume chance of success would be similar.

Thank you

I believe that the plant physiologists have debunked that myth about needing to prune back to achieve ‘balance’ with root mass on transplanted stock…


Mixed. The success for some of the smaller root sections (as pictured in March 26) wasn’t great. Of course, that could have been because I used smaller pots and am not great about keeping them property watered (smaller dries out quicker). The larger sections (as pictured at the bottom of the March 12 post) did pretty well, with several of them getting pretty big.

Here’s a picture of a Black Sea which grew about 3’ and had fruit. It’s actually even more impressive than that. It had fruitset in August, then due to my poor watering it dried out and dropped the fruit (I only forget about it for a week in 90F+…). I got better about watering it and it set a 2nd crop of fruit in late August that ripened just before the frost. Now that is some resilience.

And yes, the paint pen I used to label dripped a bit. Still better than the markers which quickly fade :slight_smile:


I’m back at it, moving established trees…well, at least 1. This time, I want to make sure I have space to build a greenhouse, should I decide to go forward with it. It’s a large multi-graft pear, planted 11 years ago on OHxF333.

It’s the one closest to the corner of the deck, which is ~10’ off the ground, putting the tree at 15’+ tall and pretty darned big. I’m going to have to cut it back quite a bit, particularly in height. This time, I’m just moving it to the bottom of the yard, so I don’t need to worry about getting it in the car. No chance of that, as it’s probably twice as wide (radius of 4 to 8’) or more.

Complicating things, the pitch of the ground isn’t great for draining muddy water away and I got impatient. So, I decided to try using a wet-dry vac to suck up the water, as I spray it. It really reminds me of what dentists do, when drilling teeth (they have a water-cooled drill, and a little straw to suck up the water, bits of tooth, and blood…).

Aside from a few rocks getting stuck in the vac’s hose, it worked pretty well. It is a bit annoying to keep stopping and emptying it, but it does go pretty fast, particularly for deep work (which is too low to drain off easily).

I should have known better than to start on such a big tree around 5pm (I spent the previous 1-2 hours prepping the location for it to go). I was only about half done when it got dark and while I don’t like leaving it exposed, but I really didn’t want to work in the dark…


I’m impressed, I never tried to move a tree that big. I moved a couple 5-year-old trees and my back told me that was the limit.

Note that night doesn’t cause me to stop, I have a 2000 lumen headlamp and it is almost better than working in the day. I was pruning my grapes at 10PM last night.


The picture with the tree hanging out of the car made my day. That is great. Greeting card cover. “Happy anniversary dear”. “I got you a new tree”. So hilarious for a fruit nut.

This was a great thread to read! I’ve a Shinseiki pear tree and a Cara Cara orange that had been in the ground a few years (still much smaller than your trees) that I needed to move. My dad insisted weren’t worth moving and that they would probably die from shock. I’m a stubborn kind of person who likes to try anyway, and I am pleased to say that they have bounced back from the transplant quite nicely. Your posts are inspirational on what can be done when you set your mind to it and put in the effort.

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