Apple tree transplanting/moving

I need to move some apple trees from my garden bed and transplant them to their permanent location. They still appear to be dormant (I’m in Montana), so can I dig them up and make them bare-root to store them in peat moss until ready to plant? Or do I need to dig them with the “root ball” to move them…and plant immediately after digging up? Some are about five feet tall, two-year olds, some smaller one-year olds.

Thanks in advance for the advice!

I would get as much dirt with the roots as possible and plant out now. Just finished moving a couple myself last week. Your going to lose some roots, so they might not grow much this year.

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My preference would be to only move the trees one time, if possible. I do not think there will be a significant difference (besides the weight) from moving the root ball versus bare root. Either way, you will probably have to prune a few roots to fit the roots in your new hole. I think the most important element would be to get the tree in place before it breaks bud.


I guess that is my question: Can I dig them up, make them bare root, and store them in peat for a week or so–in order that they do not break bud before I am ready to transplant?


If you have a cooler, then yes. I think that some of the large scale nurseries do that. You have to have a way to make the trees still think it is winter.




Why not leave them where they are for that week? Pulling them off the ground will have any effect over them waking up any less. Trust me they are already waking up.

I’m in Alaska, days are getting warmer, If you know what to look for you can see that the buds are starting to swell, meaning the tress may look dormant, but they are not.

Also make sure the trees are facing the exact same direction on their new spot as on the old one, it will cut back on the adjustment period. Trees can freak out if the sun suddenly decides to do a 180.

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Yes, I can see they are waking up, and that they are beginning to swell, but they are not yet “silver tipped.” I am thinking if I put them in my out-building where the temps are below forty degrees for a week or so, they might remain rather dormant and not proceed further into the silver tip, green tip, & etc, and I might not need to be in such a hurry to plant them. The night time temps here are rising from the 20’s, last week, to the upper thirties this week, and daytime temps near seventy in a few days.

So you think I am too late for pulling them up and putting in a cooler, eh?

I will follow your advice for aiming towards the sun. :wink:

Best to dig and plant at the same time. Early as possible is the best. There is no need to store them. Storing them gives more time for root damage (drying out).

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Yes, but I think most of those large nurseries dig them in the Fall and “over-winter” them…although I am receiving some honeyberry plants which are being dug-up this week. I have a building outside where the temp is about 35 to 40 degrees (where my rootstocks and scions are waiting for me to do my grafting), and it is dark when the door is closed.

The more dirt and roots you can keep on them the better. Less transplanting stress on the trees. Replant the same time and day you take them out of their original place. Then water them after transplanting them to the new spot. Making sure the dirt of tamped down to avoid air pockets in their new location.


Yes, but if they’re dormant, not a big deal if they are bare-rooted of all the dirt.

Here lies the problem; what you see is not necessarily what the tree is doing. Heck I’ll be honest with you; I can’t tell you for certain what you tree is doing, all we can do is hedge our bets and hope for the best.

You are looking at the buds, and you see them swelling, but you are not looking at the roots that probably stirred out of dormancy weeks ago. Your tree is awake even if it hasn’t opened its eyes, so you want to avoid as much stress as possible, specifically moving it twice. I (random dude on the internet that could be wrong) personally think that moving a tree that is not dormant twice would be worst. Bareroot tree? Yeah, they can take it. Why? Because the bareroot woke up dirtless, and not even registering the root trim as damage nor stress. It will just keep on trying to gain purchase on the soil until it finds it.

A planted tree? It is already nice an comfy (and awake) feeling the dirt around and thinking to expand its root system? The first transplant damages roots, it really feels that, goes into panic mode, but start growing roots again to ‘see’ what the new environment looks like (trees ‘mate’ with the soil around them). Then a week later you bitch slap the poor thing again so more stress, more new roots, more of it trying to figure out WTF is going on.

Safe bet is that it is awake and that you should minimize stress by moving it once.


Okay, that makes sense. And after looking at them again today, I can see I need to just make a new home for them and move them only once. Thank you @don1357

It seems that instead of remodeling my kitchen and bathroom the past few weeks to make my wife happy, I should have been doing more in my garden and doing the more important things–like taking care of my trees! :scream:

Thanks everyone.

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One supposes they’d need a brain to ‘think’…but I like your account.

You would be amazed at how much they can process. Look up epigenetic memory, the ability of organisms to learn and adapt to their environment through non-DNA modifications. Simply put they adapt by sensing their environment, conserve the memory so acquired, and use it to adapt to their circumstances. Heck they can even smell. Several tree species will release pheromones when under insect attack, with other trees picking the clues and developing chemicals to protect themselves before the bugs arrive. This is something they don’t do by default because how taxing it would be to produce said chemicals all the time.

Trees don’t expect to move, they do freak out when their environment changes. Young and dormant? They don’t seem to notice much. Awake, and you end up with a confused tree that forgets to put out flowers in the spring and tries to do that in the fall.

I’m in Alaska with some rather unusual conditions and of course always trying to push the envelope as to what can grow here. Trying to see things from the perspective of the tree helps its survival.


You should plant them as soon as the soil is thawed in one action. Why would you do it differently? Frost after transplant is not an issue, and I transplant of scores of apple trees every fall in upstate NY and they are fine even after test winters where it gets below -20 F.

I always begin nursery operations in the spring prior to first growth even though hard frosts generally occur after transplanting them. If you transplant them after first growth some of the energy in pushing new root is wasted and you don’t get as much growth the first season. In the long run, it means you wait longer for first harvest.


Do you bare-root them when transplanting in both cases, spring and fall?

I might want to sell some 2 and 3 year-old trees I’ve bench grafted each year, and bare-rooting them would be much easier than potting.

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Yes I bare root most of my plants besides pears, which I grow in in-ground, knitted Whitcomb “pots”. Pears do not transplant well bare root but I regularly transplant up to 4" caliber apples bare root, although trees that size require a lot of work to safely dig up most of the root system.

In the nursery trade, bare root trees of size have a bad rep, but I sell them directly to customers keeping roots moist for the duration and the trees recover faster than similar BandB’d trees. Don’t expect to discover that from your manual for commercial nursery production.

I do produce apple trees in bags as well, but to transplant to 25 gallon pots, which I can sell any time. Bare roots can only be moved during dormancy. Also, contractors far prefer them to bare root trees.

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Hmmm, very helpful information @alan Thank you very much! I don’t have a “manual for nursery production.” Is there such a manual? I’ve only been learning by doing so far, and been taking a lot of forward and backward steps along the way. :sweat_smile: :rofl:

So do you dig up your apple trees in the fall and store all winter, or wait until spring and dig up as soon as soil thaws?