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Occasionally, a fruit tree needs to be replaced or replanted. A tree might have died, or become so sick you decide to pull it out.

You might have planted the tree in the wrong place. Or you might decide you’d prefer a different variety in that spot.

But just because you have to pull out your old apricot tree (for example) doesn’t mean you don’t want apricots. You’re definitely going to want to plant another apricot tree, right?

So, is it OK to replant the new tree in the same spot?

Well, it depends.

Pests like borers can sometimes kill fruit trees; you need to pull the tree out and start again.
If your fruit tree has succumbed to a pest like borer you may need to replant a replacement tree.

What can happen when you replant fruit trees in the same spot?

Replanting the same type of tree in the same spot in your garden can sometimes lead to a problem called replant disease.

It’s not a specific disease caused by a single organism. Rather, the term refers to a range of problems that can occur when you replace a tree with the same type of tree. It’s sometimes called ‘sick soil syndrome’.

Here’s what can happen if you get replant disease:

  • Trees can struggle to get started;
  • Sometimes they grow poorly or end up stunted;
  • Roots can turn black, grow weakly, or die at the tips;
  • At worst, the plants can die.

The good news is, that it doesn’t happen to every fruit tree. The bad news is that it can affect apples, cherries, citrus, peaches, pears, plums, and quinces (so, most common fruit trees!).

Causes of replant disease

Replant disease is also a familiar issue in vegetable gardens. Most gardeners have heard that they shouldn’t plant their tomatoes in the same spot each year, though many people are not sure exactly why.

With vegies, the solution is relatively easy. You practice crop rotation, which means planting your tomatoes (and all your other vegies) in a different spot each year.

And that gives a clue as to the cause.

Replant disease is caused by a buildup of pathogens or disease-causing organisms in the soil around the roots of the plant. It’s particularly likely to happen in poor soils, or if the previous tree has died from root disease.

Nematodes are the most well-known organism to cause replant disease. But bacteria, fungi, and viruses can all cause problems. The symptoms may be caused by a single organism, or a complex mix of microbes.

Different species attack different types of trees.

Stunted leaves on a baby plum tree which may be caused by replant disease
Stunted leaves on a baby plum tree can be a symptom of replant disease

Preventing replant disease

In a veggie garden, moving the plants each season means that the pathogens specific to each plant type don’t get a chance to build up in the soil.

Even though fruit trees aren’t moved regularly, the solution is surprisingly similar. In essence, don’t follow ‘like with like’. If you have to pull out your apricot tree and want to replant another apricot, put it in a different spot.

It’s fine to use the site where the apricot was for a different type of tree. If you plant an apple, plum, or quince in the spot, in most cases it should thrive.

However, the severity of the disease can also be influenced by other factors like general soil health. If the original tree died or failed to thrive because the soil is chronically waterlogged, for example, the poor soil conditions are likely to affect other trees planted in the same spot.

Conversely, healthy organic soil is your best defence against replant disease. Healthy soil contains billions of different micro-organisms, and many of them eat each other.

For example, apple replant disease is largely caused by root-eating nematodes. Turns out that one of the biggest threats to the disease-causing nematodes is nematode-eating nematodes. The trick is to create the right conditions in your soil to encourage these predators.

Replanting fruit trees on a large scale

Our old cherry block was one of our favourite places on the farm. There were 1,000 trees producing beautiful lush cherries, year after year.

It was hugely popular with the pick-your-own crowds and was generally a nice place to be.

Visitors enjoying picking cherries in the old cherry orchard
Visitors enjoying picking cherries in the old cherry orchard

That all changed during the spring and summer of 2010/2011. Central Victoria received flooding rain in October and December.

Cherry trees hate wet roots, and even though the block is on a slope, the roots were inundated for long enough to kill the entire block.

This left us with a dead cherry block, but we also had to make a few decisions.

A cherry tree killed by the floods
A cherry tree killed by the floods

First, we needed to decide whether to replant the cherry block. After we picked ourselves up after such a disaster, it was a pretty easy decision. Cherries had always been a big part of our farm. They brought joy to a lot of people, and they were a significant part of our income.

We needed a new cherry block!

Then we had to decide where they’d go. For all the reasons talked about above, we decided to replant the cherries in a new block, on soil that had not previously had an orchard. Fresh ground seemed like the safest way to go.

The new cherry orchard, planted in a virgin site
The new cherry orchard, planted on a virgin site

Finding the right place in your garden for each variety

It took us a few years to dispose of the old trees, grow the trees for the new block, and get them planted. But it’s so nice to have a cherry block on the farm again that it’s been totally worth it.

They obviously love their new spot and are growing well.

The other decision we had to make was what to do with the vacant cherry block. Clearly, we couldn’t put cherries back on that site, so we decided to replant it with a heritage apple orchard. As so often happens, a disaster became an opportunity.

Losing a tree can be devastating, but it doesn’t have to be the end of that crop in your garden. In fact, you’ll often find that trees that previously struggled will thrive if they’re replanted in a new position.

Start fresh with a new tree in a new site, and you’ll be back in production in no time!

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