Q&A: Can I transplant my citrus?

Q. I’d like to transplant my lime tree to another location in the garden. When is the best time to do this? Bronwyn

A. The best time to transplant trees and shrubs is during winter when the plants are dormant, as this ensures minimal shock from root disturbance. For greatest success, a month before you actually shift your tree, dig a circle around the drip line to severe the surface roots. On the day of moving, dig a large planting hole that will accommodate the root ball. Then dig up your tree, keeping as much soil as possible intact around the roots to avoid further root disturbance. Plant the tree in its new home, watering deeply and regularly after planting. Do not fertilise the tree until after a burst of growth in spring, then use a special citrus fertiliser. Jane


  1. can I trans plant my Dwarf Tangerine now? It is small and has 4 fruits on it. Thanks

    • Hi Joanne. Can you tell me where you live? Thanks.

    • Hi Jane I Have transplanted 4 mandarin trees and they have all dropped there leaves. Does this mean that the transfer haven’t been successful or should I leave them for a couple of seasons to see if they might come away again. Cheers Samantha.

      • Hi Samantha. Not necessarily. It could be just the shock from being moved to a new spot. However, having said that, it’s not a good sign. You need to make sure it’s not water logged or you didn’t overfeed it, or damage the roots when being moved. I would leave it for a couple of seasons to see if it picks up. They can come back, but only if it’s in a good position and it hasn’t been overly damaged. Good luck!

  2. Tracey Stimpson says:

    Hi Jane … as above, I wonder if I can transplant a dwarf mandarin tree. It’s about 1.5 years old and sadly is too much in the shade and close to mangroves. It’s leaves have turned black and it’s had only a couple of tardy fruits! I live in Avondale, Auckland. Thanks.

  3. Susan walker says:

    Hi I have a small lemon tree in my garden with fruit growing I need to move it so it can get the sun on it as it is shaded by my sage and maliser herbs can you please inform me of how to do this with out damaging it
    Regards sue

    • Hi Sue
      The best time to transplant it is in winter. If you follow the instructions in the article above, you should have success. However, if you currently have fruit on it, they may fall off in the coming weeks as the plant is re-establishing itself. Good luck.

  4. Hi I have a very large lime tree that has never produced many limes. They start to grow but only ever get to small hard fruits the size of a marble. Normally the buds just fall and nothing is produced. The tree is too big for its current position. Is it worth moving it and keep trying or should I just get rid of it?

    • Hi Karen
      If it was me, I would give the tree another chance. Fruit drop often occurs on young citrus trees until they mature, although it sounds like yours may be a few years old. It could be your tree is not getting enough food to sustain the fruit, or even water. Citrus are heavy feeders and should be fed regularly. Or it just might not like the spot its positioned in. Since it needs to me moved anyway, I would give it a go. Good luck!

  5. How big is to big? I have just moved into a property in the Waikato and there are 3 citrus trees in bad places.
    1.The first is a 4-5 foot high easy peel mandarin, it is sick and not producing anything worthy. It is planted under a HUGE pine (on the next door property) and gets little to no light. Is it worth transplanting?

    2.Is a tangelo its big! Maybe 6 foot high, It is slightly better placed as it is out of the direct cover of the nasty pine but still only getting half day sun. Do we even bother trying to move something of this size?

    3. The third is a sweet little sweet orange! It is only 4-5 foot tall and for the most part it looks pretty healthy, the problem is that whoever planted it put it right under a big old apple tree and squished up against a retaining wall! The poor tree has nowhere to go and Im afraid it is quickly out growing its area. Please tell me we can move this little beauty? If so How? When? It already has set fruit for next session…

    • Hi Grace. There is really no harm in shifting them, as it doesn’t sound like they will survive for much longer anyway, or product much, if you leave them where they are. If it was me, I would definitely give it a go. Some citrus can be surprisingly hardy. I pulled out a lime tree once which I thought was a goner, put it beside the compost bin to cut up, but actually forgot about it over winter. When I came back to it in spring, it had sprouted and was looking rather healthy, even though its roots were out of the ground. So yes, I would give it a go. Move it as outlined above.

  6. hi I have 5 reasonably sized lime and lemon trees that I want to move and take with me before I sell, will they be ok if I put them in large containers and if so when and how would I do it the best, we are in Christchurch many thanks

    • Hi Nic
      Simply follow the instructions above and move your tree in winter, if you have the time up until then before you sell your house. You can transplant them into containers no problem. If you don’t have until winter, start the process now, but follow the same instructions as above. Good luck.

  7. Shannon Register says:

    Hi. I bought a keylime tree that is already fruiting. It is roughly 2 1/2 to 3 feet tall an 2 feet wide and has 22 limes on it. I know you say winter is the best time but I am concerned about the amount of space it has in the pot it is in. I see 2 tiny little pieces of root starting to come out of the bottom. I saw a video that said you should cut most of the fruit from young trees so it can concentrate on growing its roots and canopies. It has grown new leaves in the couple of weeks since I bought it. I live near Jax FL. Do you think I should replant it now or just take off some of the fruit and wait until winter? Any advice is much appreciated.

    • Hi Shannon. That’s fine. You can replant it now. The ‘wait until winter’ advice is when your plant is in the ground and you would need to cut some of its roots to get it out. That is when it is best to wait until winter. Just be careful when you replant so as not to damage any roots. You may find some of the fruit drops off after the replant – that’s natural. It’s the plant’s way of coping – it’s putting it’s energy into root growth rather than fruit production.

  8. Shannon Register says:

    I have already sent you a question that is awaiting moderation but wanted to ask another question I also bought a meyer lemon treeand saw on another website that both meyer lemon and keylime are best for indoor growing. I live in Keystone Heights Florida. I would prefer to have them outside. Do you think they would do okay outside or should I just repot them in larger pots and keep them inside? Thanks so much for any advice.

    • Hi Shannon. I’m sorry, I’m not sure I can be much help. I live in New Zealand and am unfamiliar with the temperatures in your area. However, I can say that Meyer lemons can certainly grow outside in frost-free areas. They are usually best in temperatures up to 26C (80F) though, so as your temperatures get much higher than this (I’m assuming) they might suffer from the heat. You could put it outside when temperatures are around or below this and bring it indoors if you see any signs of suffering. Initially, it would be best in a large pot. They grow well in pots, so that shouldn’t be a problem. Hope that helps.

      • Katrina Milam says:

        I live in Phoenix, AZ. We regularly get above 100 degrees in summer and can get as high as 121 degrees. Meyer lemons and all citrus thrive here. I have a Meyer in my yard and it does better than my other citrus trees. I will say that all my trees are pretty tired and beat up at the end of summer (as am I) from the heat. I doubt if Keystone Heights Florida will get hot enough to kill an outdoor Meyer Lemon, if it thrives in Phoenix, provided it gets good care.

  9. Denise Drummond says:

    Hi, I want to move my dwarf citrus tree into the garden, it is currently in a 600×600 container but is ant doing very well. I want to know do you cut it back? and if so by how much.

    • Hi Denise
      No, citrus don’t typically need cutting back, although you can cut of any dead wood. It might simply be lacking food and water. I would transplant it now into the garden and cut off any dead wood. You could give it a light trim if you want to tidy it up. Wait until September to feed it with a citrus fertiliser.

  10. Hi Jane, I live in Nelson and would like to move an established lemon tree to another part of my garden. It is not that big but I think it’s quite old. It’s doing fine where it is and produces well but it’s just in the wrong place. Should I trim the branches back before I move it, and if so, would you do that before or after (or at the same time) as when you dig the circle around the drip line? I have read that you should prune off 20% of the branches before transplanting but I’ve also read that citrus don’t like being pruned. I thought if the tree was smaller, it might reduce the demands on it once it’s been moved so it would have time to settle in to its new position? Also, by the time I wait a month after digging around the root line, it will be mid-late September – is that too late to shift it? Many thanks for your time.

    • Hi Julie
      It’s still OK to move your citrus now (or Sept when you will actually be moving it). If the tree has fruit, remove them, even if they are not yet fully mature, as they are likely to drop off anyway after the move. Even if they didn’t drop, you want your tree to put all its energy into root growth rather than fruit growth so that it can settle itself into its new position. You probably don’t need to prune the tree unless you need to get rid of any scraggly or damaged branches anyway. But you might like to apply an anti-transpirant spray (available from garden centres) on the leaves just before removal. These leave a film on the leaves that helps to reduce water loss through leaf surface, and thus reduce the level of transplanting shock.

  11. Hi there. We have just transplanted a mature lemon tree and smallish mandarin tree. At the time (very start of spring) they both had fruit. We tried to get as much fruit off as possible but the foliage was still quite healthy. Two weeks on and both trees have really wilted leaves. Is it best to somehow get rid of the dying/dead looking leaves or wait for it to happen naturally? I don’t think that the leaves are necessarily falling off but they look awful!

    • You need to remove any fruit that is remaining or starts to form this season. The plants need to put their energy into re-establishing their root system, not putting it into developing fruit. Make sure you water them regularly and deeply and give them a feed as well. Wait to see if the foliage perks up. It may not have been taking up adequate water (since presumably you chopped a lot of the roots off when transplanting). You should see some new leaves in a month or so if it’s starting to perk up.

  12. Charlie Wigram says:

    We have 6 lime trees (or bushes) in a line, about 6-7 foot tall and fruiting. We need to move them to a new spot in 5 weeks, even though not best season, as there is construction work going on.

    I will prune and cut roots to ensure they get ready for the move, what soil/ fertilizer would you recommend in the new holes to give the best chance of survival?

    Also, is it worth taking them up now and leaving in jute bags for the next 4-5 weeks, or is it best to leave them where they are until the last moment?

    Auckland based, clay soil but good sun exposure.


    • Hi Charlie
      I would leave them where they are until the last moment. Cut down with a spade as it mentions above. As it is summer, and exceptionally hot in Auckland at the moment, they are likely to experience shock when moved. And as you are affectively trimming their roots, they will have less opportunity to take up water. So make sure you water them well after their move. I would also erect a temporary shade structure (shade cloth) until they settle in and put down roots or the weather becomes a little cooler. Remove all the fruit too.

  13. We purchased a lemon tree from a store still in its pot. It was a small tree standing about 14-18 inches tall. We planted it November 2017 and now 4 months later, it has grown a little bit becoming more bushier. In general it’s still a small tree. Can we transplant it without causing damage and after transplanting will it recover or will the tree die? If we can transplant it, what is the best month of the year to do this? I live in Urban Pukekohe Town.

    • Hi Sean. Yes, you can move it. You can start now, following the above instructions. If any fruit are forming, remove these. They are likely to fall off anyway following the move.

  14. Hi. I have a kaffir lime tree growing in a half barrell on our deck. When we planted it there We didnt realise it would have those vicious 3cm long thorns on it, so its a bit of a hazard, where it is. It’s about a metre tall and 5 years old. Can it be transplanted like other citrus….moving the barrell isn’t really an option?

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