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Fall planting vs Spring planting for bare-root fruit trees

We ship trees in both fall and spring, but for most customers spring is usually the best time.

When to plant?

For customers in warmer zones, 8A and above, late fall is a good time to plant fruit trees. However, the trees must be dormant before transplanting, so we have to wait for winter to be on the doorstep before we can ship the trees - typically around Thanksgiving. Spring is also a good time to plant for the warmer zones.

If you are in zones 7A or 7B, then fall planting is also usually safe. However check the long term weather forecast for your area, because if temperatures drop into the low teens in late November or early December the trees will be at risk.

If you are in colder zones, or your ground is likely to freeze over by the end of November, we do not recommend fall planting, Spring is a far better time to plant.

Benefits of fall planting

There are definitely advantages to fall planting. The main benefit is allowing the tree to settle in to its new location while the soil is still warm, and the roots can still grow a bit. This gives the tree a head-start in the spring. In areas where average winter minimum temperatures hover around freezing or above, there is no reason not to plant in the fall.

In other words, since bare-root fruit trees cannot be transplanted until mid/late November, and since they have to be dormant when transplanted, the benefits of fall planting are less than they are for pot-grown plants transplanted in early fall.

However the timing of fall planting is crucial. The trees must be dormant before transplanting, so there is a small window, around the end of November, when newly-dormant fruit trees can be shipped for planting in warmer zones.

It is for this reason that we cannot ship trees in September and October. The trees are still growing at this point and digging them up would be counter-productive.

Disadvantages of fall planting

For customers in colder zones, 7A and below, there are significant risks associated with planting bare-root fruit trees in the fall. The main concern is that a newly-planted fruit tree will not be able to cope with a sudden drop in temperatures below freezing, and while the real cold temperatures may not arrive until January / February, it is not really worth taking the risk.

Spring planting

We only ship trees whilst they are still dormant - it is rarely a good idea to try to plant a bare-root fruit tree that has already broken dormancy.

The main catch with spring planting is that the rapid transition from dormancy to growth puts considerable demand on the root system. Fortunately some simple steps will help the new tree get established quickly. Firstly, make sure you cut the stem back on planting, as recommended in our planting instructions. Secondly, pay attention to watering in the spring and summer, make sure the tree gets the water it needs (but don't drown it).

In other respects, the wake-up call of spring planting is a good thing for the tree, as it will help it break dormancy decisively.