Moving a very mature Meyer lemon

confused_newbieMarch 15, 2013

Hi all,

We have a very mature, age unknown (how do you ID age of lemon tree? that's a separate question) Meyer lemon tree in the garden that needs to be moved 3 feet left to make room for a patio door. The tree has been around and mature since we moved in 7 years ago, and it's about 7 feet tall and extremely productive - hundreds of lemons almost year around. It is west facing.

Can we move it without killing it? What is the expected lifespan of a lemon tree? We are considering the cost of moving it (not sure if this is something we can do ourselves without killing it) vs planting a new one. Here's a picture:

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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)

If I had something that nice and productive I would scrap my new door plans until my replacement lemon was producing well. PLANTS BEFORE PLEASURE.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 5:43PM
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pick the lemons, and move it before it blooms. dig as wide as the branches, that'll keep most of its roots intact. they have lots of surface/subsurface roots that extend out towards and even past where the branches are.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 6:46PM
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that would be digging up a gigantic root - not sure if we can do that ourselves.
i was reading somewhere else that a lemon tree is usually only productive for 15 yrs or so - and i am guessing this tree is > 15 yrs old, so it might not even be worth the effort to try and move it?

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 8:34PM
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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)

Citrus is very finicky and I would seek out a professional that may do it for you or instruct you on how. I have attempted to move apple, cherry and peach fruit trees of this size with dismal results. If you can wait 4 years another tree could be producing

    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 9:18PM
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I don't think that there's a good way to move that tree... The roots expand out past the dripline.

Get a new one or if you're sentimental about the tree and want to try something neat, attempt to airlayer a new one from it. watch the process here:



    Bookmark   March 15, 2013 at 9:35PM
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I am starting to wonder if I should move my patio doors instead! Maybe just a couple of feet. Maybe I can try and prune the tree to a smaller canopy and still have my patio doors?! I really don't think there is a good way to move and not kill the tree!

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 12:06AM
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Okay, it is a Meyer...moving a Meyer that size and age is difficult at best... Ground to ground the same day gives you the best chance... ground to ground a few feet away, a better chance. Houston gives you good advice. I would try to move it as carefully as possible; and if you fail, you fail; but I prefer to try the best case versus the worst case, which is starting over with a "baby" tree.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 12:56AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I've spent much of my career working with trees and helping homeowners, communities, golf courses, and other tree owners learn to live with their trees. OR without them.

The most important measurement I would need to have in order to determine a positive outcome for a tree transplant is the diameter at chest height and at the thickest part of the trunk....usually at the flare. If you measure the CIRCUMFERENCE, that will be a big help.

The age of the tree is, indeed, very important. Trees, just like any other living thing, begin to senesce once they reach a certain age. Trees really have finite, expected life span which is largely determined by genetics though environmental factors have a great influence. The older a tree is according to its genetic expectation, the more difficult the recovery process. Compare it with a healthy younger person undergoing double knee opposed to grandpa having the same procedure.

Few people understand how heavy an established tree can be, nor how huge and widespread the root system can be. A field grown nursery tree is removed typically with a tree spade...a large piece of equipment that quickly chops a tree from the field with the full expectation that most of the roots will remain in the field. Properly field dug and then properly planted trees should have a 100% success rate, and live long and healthy lives.

That being said, I'd believe that this tree has very poor prospects if you try to do it yourself. Since I don't have a history of the tree or even pictures to help determine its fitness as a candidate for a professional dig....I'd be hesitant for you to spend that kind of money.

You could certainly get some estimates for transplanting. An experienced crew can hand dig a smallish tree and get it moved with little mangling, breaking of branches, trunk damage.

I also think that you should choose the best place for your patio door according to YOUR needs, not the proximity of an aging tree! Unless a tree is of historical significance, of great sentimental value, or environmentally valuable I wouldn't allow it to "hold you hostage ", so to speak. By the way, is this a new patio....has there been some construction in the area?

I'd plant another tree or two far enough away from the patio or any other structure or hardscape to ensure that they will never be in the way. Fostering new trees is a wonderful pleasure.
In this case, I really believe that it's your best scenario.....short term and long term.

We can help you avoid the usual planting pitfalls to ensure that your new trees live a long and productive life.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 9:21AM
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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)

You got your answer your self. Trim the tree back enough to make the patio door work, plant another to the left. As the new tree grows, trim the old one to yield to the new one. over years you will ether eliminate the old tree with no loss of fruit production or you can end up with the old tree trimmed up to the trunk on the house side giving you a clear path to the right to your drive.

Don't compromise your door.

    Bookmark   March 16, 2013 at 9:47AM
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rhizo_1, the circumference at chest height is 4" and the thickest part of the trunk is 20". There hasn't been any construction in the area, and when we cut the patio door it'll be minimal construction too. The tree has no special sentimental value - we didn't even plant it ourselves, it was from the previous owner. Thus age unknown. We just love how low / no maintenance it's been, and how beautiful and productive it is.
I don't think we'll attempt to DIY if we were to transplant - I am pretty sure we'll kill it!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 12:53AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

You mean that it's been in front of your bay window for this whole time? That thing would be outta there, if it were!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 12:14PM
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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)

I would be ecstatic to have a citrus/fortunella tree like that in front of my bay window. This is your house. We just give suggestions. As a contractor I can assure you that if you change the door design because of the tree, you may really resent your decision down the years. How ever if you postpone the door to get another tree started, you will ether get tired of waiting or you may find you don't need that door after all, But you are not out any money. The longer you wait, the more ideas you will come up with. Don't rush, there is always tomorrow. We are all different people with different ideas .. Weigh out the ideas, sleep on them, finalize your plans, then do.

Thanks for letting me post a picture of my seed grown Meiwa kumquat tree

    Bookmark   March 17, 2013 at 12:59PM
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thanks for all the feedback - i really appreciate it. yup the tree has been outside of the bay window since we moved in, and we liked it that way. :)

    Bookmark   March 18, 2013 at 1:47PM
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GKGK(9b East of SF Bay)

I had mixed success moving a 25+ year old Semi-D Washington Navel 2 years ago. It was 16 ft. tall and rootstock 6"+ across. It was getting strangled by Redwoods ( I later got rid of all the Redwoods ~ another story) and I had a better spot in mind for it.

I was successful. Until i decided to move it 2 more times within the first year; and feed it all along the way. Its alive but in a coma right now. If the all the digging shock didn't get it, it was the over-feeding. I think you can succeed, but move it once and let it fully recover before attempting to move it again :-)

Its a big dig and you will need to cut some feeder roots. You do not need to go too deep, but try to retain as much of the upper root system as you can. Once you cut the roots, leaves will drop because they will not have as much of a roots system to nourish them. That is normal. You can cut / trim the tree at this time, the smaller root system will not be able to support the whole canopy anyway.
I suggest that you do not put fertilizer in the soil and NO fertilizer until you get 3-4" of new growth. Heavy blossoming is a good sign, but not a sign that it needs food - - yet. Wait for the branch growth.

I have found Citrus to be really tough.

    Bookmark   March 25, 2013 at 1:05AM
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Steve, Micro (6B ground, 5B roof)


I am curious if you made a decision on tree movement. If you moved it did it go well.


    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 10:14PM
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