digging up mature citrus trees to move

brass_tacks(8b/GA)September 5, 2008

I need to move about five mature citrus trees. I say mature, but they are young/mature. The roots extend about a foot out from the canopies. On the average, the canopies are about 5 feet from the trunks.

My question is, how far away from the trunk can I dig -- is there a technique?

Reason for moving, the trees have sunk and I don't know any other way to remedy the problem.

Some trees are getting shaded from the afternoon sun.

Some trees are too close to other trees and the cituation will only get worse.

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gardenerme(z9/21 inland socal)

OK, this will be a job for you. I have done things like this before and had mixed results. I think the key to maximizing success is time: take your time (maybe weeks) and pick the best time (dormancy if possible).

It seems very odd that your roots only extend a foot from the trunk. I would expect the tiny threadlike feeder roots to be out as far as the edge of the canopy, minimum. With that thought in mind, you may want to extend your digging circle a bit.

Anyway, most tree roots are within 18-24" of the surface. I begin by digging a trench around the root ball, about 6" deep the first time. I then waited 2 weeks, filling the trench with water once a week to keep the root ball healthy.

Then, 2 weeks later, I dig out another 6", soak the rootball twice during a 2 week period, then finally the 3rd week I dig down the final 6-12 inches, dig under the rootball, dig a ramp up one side of the hole if necessary, tip the tree carefully, wrap the rootball with a tarp and twine (to keep the root ball as intact as possible), and then move it carefully (with lots of help), to its new home. Oh, I forgot, you should be digging the new home in the weeks you are trenching the tree.

In the new home, I would not amend the soil at all (since the tree is accustomed to the soil in your area already, and any amendments would eventually sink and lower your tree again), but it would not hurt to fill the hole with water to check the drainage and moisten the surrounding area.

Then I would carefully slide the rootball in (tipped to one side the way you took it out), remove the wrapping, center the tree and backfill, building a small berm for watering all the way out at the dripline. Be sure to keep the flare of the trunk a couple of inches above ground level this time to avoid the sinking issues.

Then I would go to HD or Lowe's and get some Super Thrive (a vitamin and root hormone) and apply 1 capful to 5 gallons of water once a week for 4-6 weeks. I would not feed the tree at all for about 3-6 months so that you don't push it farther than it can safely go. The rest is up to nature.

Since you have more than one tree to move, I would stagger them, trenching one, waiting a week, trench the 2nd one, wait a week, retrench the first one, trench the 3rd one, and so on and so on.

I hope you do well. Just be sure to pick the best time and take your time to reduce shock.

    Bookmark   September 5, 2008 at 4:51PM
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First of all, thanks for answering.
The feeder roots extend out about a foot from the edge of the canopies -- so about six feet away from the trucks.

Three questions:

1. Is the root ball you mention what it was when I first planted the tree or would you say it has become larger? If I can recall, the root balls were probably out about a foot or maybe more from the trucks when first planted.

2. We get frosts here, would you say that I should wait till after the first frost, or wait till after what I think would be the last frost to replant the trees. I'm thinking that if I have begun digging, I should protect the soil from frost as well as the leaves and trunk. Also, the last frost here could be close to when I would expect a spring flush.

The only time my leaves are damaged from frost is when I am taken by surprise and don't have the canopies covered.

3. What about trimming the canopies back. If I trim the canopies, would I do that before replanting or after?

    Bookmark   September 6, 2008 at 10:33AM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

The typical root system of established trees will extend many times the radius of the canopy, sometimes as much as three or four times. The canopy of a tree is not something that should ever be considered as a 'marker' for tree roots, as it would be limiting, indeed.

However, healthy trees can be removed with most of that root system severed, because when transplanted properly into a good site, root regenerate rapidly. Field-grown (professionally grown) trees are managed in such a way to limit their root development into the surrounding territory too much, but even at that, up to 90% of the roots can be left in the field after digging. No attempt is made to get 'as much of the root system as possible'. For one, the trees would weigh several tons!

Anyway, a much more appropriate measurement to give us is the diameter of the trunk, probably at about 4.5 feet up the trunk. That's diameter, not circumference.

The ideal way to transplant trees of this size would probably be with a tree spade. The actual size of the tree (in diameter) would indicate what size spade. Tree spades cut the roots sharply, remove the ball from the ground with very little damage to the crown and root ball, and will also move the tree for you.

By the way, with the proper measurements, I can probably estimate how much the tree and root ball will weigh, give or take a couple of hundred pounds.

Tree spades 'can' be used to dig the hole, too, but the operator might need to be ordered to dig it three or more times as wide than he is used to doing.

This is probably the ideal time of year for you to transplant. Do NOT do any top pruning prior to the procedure. The foliage is the energy source that will enable the tree to produce new roots rapidly. Also, plant hormones in the branch tips trigger root development, as well. If you prune the top, then the tree is forced to concentrate that essential energy from the leaf factories away from the roots. Thus, top pruning to compensate for root loss is a myth.

As the previous person mentioned, plant only into native soil without any amendments at all. Again, the hole should be at least three or more times wider than the root ball but NO DEEPER! As a matter of fact, the hole can be a few inches more shallow so that your tree sits a bit higher than the surrounding grade.

I'm not a fan of the Super Thrive, but I know a lot of people who are. It can't hurt, at least! Be sure to avoid fertilization at this time. All your trees will need is water, sunlight, and time.

By the way, the larger the tree, the more difficult it is for the tree. That's why we need that measurement. I can estimate how many months it will take for your tree to become properly established.

Questions? Confused? Let me know!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2008 at 11:24AM
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Thanks for the offer. 1 tree is 10" around, and 4 are 9" around. (That's measuring a string that went around the trunk.)

My trees are what I call a young-mature. I am able to keep track of how far away from the trunk the roots are growing because I tend to the irrigation ditches around the trees. Yes, the longer the trees are in the ground, the farther away the roots are found.

I don't want to move the trees yet because I still have flushes of young leaves and fruit on the trees. I'm going to get the areas where the trees will be planted ready. I don't know when the sap will slow down -- I still am getting new flushes -- so I will just have to wait to notice when the trees seem to be resting (already!!!)

As best as I can find on the net, I should think about pruning the trees before flowering -- that would be about Feb. 1st. I know, I know, we're suppose to keep as much green on the tree as possible, BUT the problem I am having with the fungus on two of the trees may have something to do with the density of the canopies -- not letting enough air circulating, nor sun. Also, I want to top the two trees. If I had a better idea of what water sprouts look like, I would like to cut them off too. I recognize the ones that are new flushes, but I don't know what they look like when they're older.


    Bookmark   September 11, 2008 at 5:29PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Here are some figures for you to mull over, Brass. These are based on BMP (best management practices) for the successful transplanting of field dug trees. This will, at the very least, give you some general rules-of-thumb to go by.

Your large tree has a DIAMETER of about 3.18 inches, but let's call it 3 and a quarter. The others have a diameter of about 2.85 (or 2 and three quarters).

It's recommended that for every INCH of trunk diameter, allow for 12 inches of root ball diameter (with the trunk in the middle). So your 3.18 inch tree needs a root ball of about 38 inches.

Trees of that diameter, with those approximate root ball sizes, could weigh anywhere from 5 to 6 hundred pounds. Time to call in the tree spade! ;-)

About the pruning: if you decide to transplant your trees, I would put off any significant pruning (especially topping) until your trees are fully established. Depending upon many environmental factors, it can take 1 to 2 years per inch of tree diameter for that establishment to occur. In your location, probably closer to one year per inch.

Thinning the trees, as you mentioned, would not be nearly as detrimental to the process of root regeneration as the topping.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2008 at 12:03PM
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Gardner and Rhizo,
Thank you very much. (live and learn -- yikes)

    Bookmark   September 15, 2008 at 11:01PM
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