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Mailbag: When and how to transplant a fig tree

A fig tree growing in a sunny spot

A fig tree growing in a sunny spot in the backyard. Credit: Jessica Damiano

I have a fig tree about 6-7 feet tall in my front yard and would like to transfer it to a friend's yard. When and how do I do this? The tree is about 3 years old, and the trunk is about 10 inches (I'm guestimating; the tree is still under wraps). -- Lynn Silverman, Centerport

Ten inches seems awfully big for a fig tree that's only 3 years old; I have a two-year-old fig that has a trunk that's only about 2 inches in diameter. If the tree is really big (a 10-inch trunk would qualify as really big), it will be difficult to move because, in addition to its size, the root system will be very large, and it would be almost impossible to avoid cutting or breaking roots. So, if your tree is that large, cut it down by about a third before digging it up. That will leave less tree for the smaller root system to support after it's relocated. If you've overestimated its size, and I suspect you have, the job will be easier. It still would be a good idea to cut the tree back before digging it up. Water it well and give it a dose of fish emulsion to help minimize transplant shock, but don't fertilize it.

You'll want to dig up one foot of roots for every inch of trunk. So, if the truck has a 3-inch diameter, you should dig up a 3-foot wide root ball (about a foot and a half out from each side of the trunk). Prepare the new hole before digging up the tree so that it won't have to sit around with roots exposed while you dig its new home. The new hold should be wider than the current hole, but exactly as deep. You can adjust the size of the hole after you've dug up the tree.

Mix plenty of compost into the backfill when replanting. Don't fertilize, but water it really well.

This should be done as soon as the ground is soft enough to dig -- the sooner the better, but certainly before the tree leafs out. Be aware that fruiting may be affected this year. For a large, established tree, it would be a good idea to take a cutting to root as a backup plant, just in case. 



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