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How to Transplant a Citrus Tree

Orange tree image by Evgeny Berdjansky from

Citrus trees thrive in semi-tropical climates with mild winter temperatures. The various species of citrus trees, such as lemons, limes, oranges and grapefruit, all share some similar qualities and characteristics. In addition to their inability to withstand hard frosts, these trees dislike transplanting. Many plants and trees suffer from transplant shock and require great care when moving from one area of the landscape to another.

Transplant your citrus tree in the spring. Carefully consider the location by checking for sunlight exposure. These trees require full sunlight, so don’t plant them close to structures that cast shade or under other trees that may grow large and block the sun. Choose an area that provides protection from cold, drying winds.

Prepare the new location for your citrus tree before you begin digging it out of its current location. Loosen the soil in your new site. Increase the health and porosity of the topsoil with equal amounts of compost and mulch. Use sterile compost from a gardening center to avoid introducing any diseases and weed seeds that may inhabit your outdoor compost pile.

Dig a hole about twice as wide as the circumference of your citrus tree’s canopy. The underground root system of a tree usually reflects the width of the overhead canopy. Loosen the soil in the hole to a depth of about 2 feet, but wait to remove the soil until you can view the size of the rootball.

Dig out your citrus tree from its current location by cutting through the turf and topsoil in a circle underneath the outside edges of the overhead canopy. Carefully dig down as deep as the large, major root system. Avoid cutting through these large roots. Grasp the tree by its rootball and lift from the hole, placing it on a piece of large tarp. Pull the corners of the tarp over the rootball and secure in place with a piece of strong twine. Transport your tree to its new location by carrying it by the rootball.

Remove the soil from your hole to a depth equal to that of the rootball. Place the tree’s roots at the same level as before. Don’t worry if your tree sits slightly above the surrounding soil. Avoid planting your tree too deep and don’t pile additional soil over the rootball. Place your citrus tree’s rootball in the center of your hole. Fill in the sides of the hole with your backfill, packing firmly to remove air pockets. Soak the soil around your citrus tree thoroughly after planting.


Place a layer of mulch over the surface of the soil after transplanting to help hold in moisture. Leave a gap of 2 inches between your citrus tree's trunk and the surrounding mulch.


Don’t prune your citrus tree right before you transplant it. Allow your tree to focus its energies on building new roots rather than new branches.

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