Moving 3 year old peach trees?

So I made a rookie mistake. Now I’m faced with moving 2 of my 3 year old peach trees. The trees are a Red Haven on Lovell and an Encore on Guardian 520-9. Both trees have been pruned to keep them short and small. Both trees were bare root when planted. At this point the tree’s caliper is almost 4 inches.
My plan is to wait until leaf fall, prune very hard then move and stake. What is the chance of survival? Any advice to increase the chances of survival? I’m not planing on putting any additive like blood, bone meal or fertilizer in the hole. I don’t want to promote growth over the winter. I’m also planning on not letting it fruit next summer.
Do I have a good plan? How big of a root ball should I expect? Any help appreciated. Thanks!

That’s a big tree, the root ball will weigh hundreds of pounds. A landscaper can do it, he has the root cutters and dollies to do it safely. You’ll kill yourself trying to do it.

Let’s see what @Olpea says. He probably has a lot of experience moving peach trees. I moved my two year peach tree in early spring before the tree leafed out. It made it.

I am in zone 6. I don’t prune heavily or move such a tree heading in to cold winter.

Actually, I’m probably the one on this forum with the most experience moving peach trees since I’m in the nursery business, not the peach business. I’ve moved 100’s of up to 3.5" diameter (caliber) trees bare root. It is surprising to me that a peach tree could reach 4" in 3 years- I’ve never seen growth quite that vigorous.

In my opinion it isn’t worth the price of hiring a tree spade man- I would move them bare root unless the soil was some kind of heavy clay or filled with big rocks that made it too difficult (in which case, moving without an air spade is probably out of the question).

Use a heavy solid steel spade like a King of Spades- he one with the longest digging blade. You also need a good, heavy cultivating fork and a normal digging shovel. For trees that size you start forking away from the tree about 2.5 feet out and finding the big roots, then working to free them- as much as possible using the heavy spade with the blade parallel to the roots. Sometimes you can save big 5’ cables of root or more, prying with the spade and pulling away soil with the fork.

As the tree starts to loosen up push hard to tilt it to locate all the big roots and free them one by one.

Once the tree is free cover the roots with wet old sheets and tie a bit tarp outside of that so you can move it. Without the dirt- two men will be able to move even a 4" caliber tree and it will probably survive and thrive in a new location.


I have trees which are 4" at the end of 3rd leaf here in KS, but generally have a very big canopy (at least have a big spread, even if not very tall). I’ve not moved any peach trees that big myself because the trees would have at least a 10’ spread, probably closer to 15’.

I have moved some decent sized peach trees, but nothing approaching 4" trunks. The bigger peach trees I’ve moved, I did it bare root as Alan outlined, except that I don’t worry about getting as much root. I prune the tops back (There is some debate whether or not this helps “balance” the tree, but that’s not why I do it. I do it to prevent blow over, as the tree re-establishes a root system for anchorage.) I’m pretty lazy when it comes to digging big holes to plant, so I prune the roots to fit the hole I’ve dug.

I get good growth in spite of my sloppy methods because the soil is naturally very fertile, the peach trees are on a raised planting, and I don’t allow thick sod anywhere near young peach trees.

I would not advise moving a large tree this way this close to winter. It’s a pretty big shock to move a large peach tree bare root (especially if you don’t dig up much root like I do). Peach trees tend not to handle big shocks very well going into winter. They may handle it better if you really focus on digging lots of roots with the transplant, but still some risk if the winter turns out to be exceptionally cold.

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Kubota BX25D Tractor with backhoe attachment, wet down the soil two 1-2 days prior with a lot of water…start digging a square or circle 4ft feet away from the trunk/caliper. Dig down about 30" and then use the backhoe to scoop the tree out of the hole slightly to get burlap underneath then tie it up and lift with backhoe. Basically your going to loose some roots but hopefully not too much in this process. I have done this a few times to apple trees without any problems.

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Have you tried moving peaches in Nov.? I almost never lose them and typically move about 70 of them a year from Nov. through Dec. (for the last 25 years) and my temps get much lower than yours (inland SNY)- but, of course, actual lows and even weather in general are just part of it.

I’ve moved peach trees in Nov. I’ve lost some, but these are smaller trees. I had assumed moving a 4" peach tree in Nov. would be a pretty huge shock, especially if not much root is dug up (like I do). If you’ve done it and had good luck, I’ll retract that precaution.

O prefer to move peach trees in the spring when there is no chance of tree death, but many times there is too much to do in the spring so I move them in the fall.

As you know we have more issues here with relatively mild winter temps having negative consequences for peach trees (i.e. killing flower buds and sometimes killing young heavily pruned trees). I suspect that has to do with the trees not shutting down as fast for the winter (young peach trees haven’t set terminal buds here, and won’t for quite some time). This may also have something to do with some problems moving peach trees before winter here.

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The trees I move in fall not only do as well as those in spring, they plug in much better. I wouldn’t do it any other time when I have a choice. The only reason I know of that a bare root tree is particularly stressed (the energy is already stored in wood and buds) is when freeze-thaw causes root injury or partial heaving in inadequately or un mulched trees. Perhaps your famous wind makes desiccation more an issue and there a wind shelter or burlap wrap would help.

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I agree with most of what’s been posted, except I’d want the tree to be
totally dormant and wouldn’t move until late winter, very early spring.
I wouldn’t worry about getting a big root ball either. nor pruning roots. You aren’t going to get all of them. I’d prune the canopy, but nothing drastic. My main concern would be where am I moving it to. I’d want an oversized hole in good drainable soil, where the tree will make an easier transition to its new home. Don’t let it carry fruit the next year, but let it spend the whole year transitioning to its new location. I’ve moved lots of trees and never lost one yet.

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I think maybe in Maryland peaches are adequately dormant in Nov., however, I don’t think a few lingering leaves matter- a healthy tree has plenty of stored energy by mid fall to complete the hardening off process-at least here. That energy is stored in the wood and buds. Some new root growth occurs in the fall improving rate of establishment in my experience. I’ve seen research backing this with apple trees.

I absolutely agree with your recs as far as new planting site. It is also important that transplanted trees don’t suffer having the soil their roots are in drying out for even a day- this is especially true of peaches. Moist but not soaking wet is key- where the old roots are and where the new ones are growing. Here this is no problem until the trees leaf out in spring and start drawing water form the soil. We get some dry Canadian air and suddenly the soil has no available water.

I moved 2 pears with a much smaller caliber trunk a couple years ago and wasn’t able to move any soil because it’s so sandy, so they were essentially bare rooted. I moved them after the leaves fell in the fall (mid Oct?). After getting them replanted I heavily mulched with woodchips to retain water and they’ve done quite well. I didn’t fertilize at the time of transplant, waited until spring to do that. Here in a zone 4a you don’t move trees in the middle of winter, the ground is frozen solid. These trees had enough of a root system that I tried to maintain at 3-4’ diameter from the trunk and required no staking. I dug down about a foot in a square, approx. 6’ wide (3’ each side) and tried to scoop it out with the loader on the tractor. I didn’t prune any of the canopy. My thought was that’s where the winter energy is stored, so I left it to help provide energy for the roots to get established again.

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I’m going through a similar issue of trying to decide when to move my orchard spring or fall. Most of my trees are smaller than yours, however. I think I’ve decided to move everything but my peach tree this fall because it is borderline hardy in my zone, and I’m worried it might not handle the winter as well after being dug up. Maybe zone hardyness doesn’t come into play here? Since I’m not sure if I will own my place in town when the ground thaws next spring I will move everything else just to be safe. The only thing I’m leaving behind are some 4 year old grapes, 5 year old cherry trees since they are so big and most of the blueberry plants since they are part of my landscaping.

In arboriculture literature it is often cited that there are species that seem to do better with spring transplant, such as mulberries. However, I don’t think peach is one of them, and I haven’t found transplanting to lead to greater cold tenderness to tolerant species in the first place, although I haven’t subjected the theory to careful research either. My most vulnerable species to weather related cambium kill is apricot, but they seem just as likely to be killed whether recently transplanted or long time survivors of many cold winters in same location.

If a species is vulnerable to death at a certain temp combined with the relative state of their dormancy, where is the evidence that transplanting is necessarily relevant? The literature I’ve seen refers to frost heaving, which is obviously only a problem for recently transplanted trees- however, mulch that offers adequate insulation completely eliminates this.

Transplanting often delays the time trees come out of dormancy and a lot of cambium kill seems to occur in spring- with the later the tree wakes up the safer it is. There may be several factors in play here that possibly counterbalance each other.

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The question that comes to my mind is: Money aside, would moving it be better than planting a new one year old bare root tree? Would you expect a reasonable crop in the summer immediately following moving? Are the chances of survival higher or equivalent to planting a new one year old tree? If the answers to these questions are no, then I would just plant a new tree.

I totally agree, especially if you’re moving to a new location.

I think you have to consider money. For me i have probably just over $ 500 into these trees most have not been there more than 2 or 3 years. 2 peach trees might only be just under $100 but if they have to be removed from that spot might as well try. I would think that you would probably lose a year after transplanting but as long as you get enough roots they should do just as well as a new bare root. It sounds like there will be no harm in transplanting during the fall. I’d say might as well give it a try I know I will.

Here in NYS a larger diameter bare root can make a lot of difference in time it takes to get large harvests. If it’s moved well it could bare well the year its removed, at worse the second year.

However I don’t live where you can grow a peach tree to a 4" diameter in 3 years. That is big enough to bare a full crop with more fruit than a single family can use fresh.

I have read an article in a trade mag about growing peach trees in a nursery for a year or two and transplanting bare root to make better use of space- you harvest from old trees while the nursery trees grow and then stick in the big bare roots for much quicker productivity- so apparently it works even in Australian peach country where the method was developed (long, very warm growing season with irrigation).

Thing is, you can try moving a single tree and then decide if it’s worth it.

Lots of decent advice in these replies! Here are few more words from a guy that’s been a rookie for way too long!
If possible, put off moving the tree until spring. Your odds of success are simply better.
Dig the new hole first! Unless you have very co-operative soil, it will likely be a bare root operation despite your better intentions.
Time it so you move the tree in a light rain. Its less fun than it could be, but sunlight and bare roots are not good friends. The root structure will not be circular and you will likely need to enlarge the hole in one direction if you’re trying to preserve as much root as possible.
A tree that size is worth pampering. Unless you’ve got great soil, fill the hole in around the roots with better soil than you took out of the hole.
After replanting, stake the trunk so it doesn’t move in the wind for a couple of years.
I’ve read somewhere that 90% of transplanting failures are traceable to insufficient watering after transplanting. Your mileage may vary, but water it, water it, water it.

I know it’s not a scientific opinion, but Matt Moser (i.e. Grandpa’s Orchard) has been in the peach and nursery industry for a long time. Here’s what he says about fall transplanting:

"• In the fall, a bareroot tree will actually grow a lot of roots and have an opportunity to get well established. A fall planted tree will really take off in the spring! But there are some potential dangers! Usually in the fall, bareroot nursery trees are not as well hardened off and ready for winter weather than a comparable tree that has been grown in the orchard for at least the summer season.

In order to grow a large nursery tree, most nurseries “push” the trees harder with optimal levels of fertilizer and irrigation, so the trees are “softer”. o Most fruit tree nurseries dig nursery stock in the fall. That way they have all winter to grade and store it in protected cold storage. The young trees are not exposed outside to treacherous winter weather.

If there is a particularly hard winter, with sub-zero temperatures or fast, extreme cold snaps in the late fall or early winter, a newly planted nursery tree can get cold damaged or flat out frozen and killed. You must be able to accept the potential “risks” of planting a bareroot tree in the fall."

I’ve often heard moving trees in the fall allows fruit trees in temperate zones to grow roots over the winter, but I’ve not seen any scientific research to support this. I’m not saying the research doesn’t exist, just that I’ve never seen it.

I’ve transplanted peach trees in the fall and then dug the same trees up in the spring and I’ve never been able to detect any root growth. When peach trees go dormant, they seem to shut down above and below ground, as far as I can tell. Like I’ve said, I move peach trees in the fall because of labor issues, but I’ve lost some of the trees and would prefer to transplant in the spring, if I had the time.

Death from fall transplanted trees does not occur every time, but it does some. For example, last year I sold about 15 peach trees or so (these were extra grafts which I didn’t need, and so sold to customers). I sold them in the fall because I don’t have time to mess with this kind of stuff in the spring. From the feedback of customers, I think all the peach trees did well except for two, which didn’t make it through the winter. All these trees had a decent root system (I dig up a good root system for customers, but don’t take the time to dig up lots of roots for trees I use myself.) I refunded the money for the two peach trees lost.

This mirrors my experience of trees I move myself. As I mentioned, I think it has something to do with peach trees not shutting down as fast here (probably because of the very fertile soil). Matt Moser seems to confirm that.