Fall planting vs Spring planting for bare-root fruit trees

Most of our trees are shipped in spring, but we sometimes offer the option of fall shipping.

When to plant?

For customers in zones 8 or above it is possible to plant fruit trees in late fall. 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. This means there is a tiny window of opportunity, typically around Thanksgiving, when we can ship trees and customers can safely plant them.

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 too far below freezing 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 in November, we do not recommend fall planting.

It is tempting to think you are giving the trees a headstart by planting in the fall, but in most cases you are not, and you may even be putting them at risk. In practice, whether you plant in November or March, it is unlikely you will see any difference in the establishment and growth of the trees by the following fall.

Benefits of fall planting

The main benefit of fall planting is that the tree has a bit of time to settle in while the ground is still warm, and can therefore grow away more quickly in the spring.

However bare-root fruit trees cannot be transplanted until mid/late November, since they have to be dormant when transplanted. At that point in the year the ground is no longer warm, so the benefits of fall planting are less than they are for pot-grown plants, which can transplanted much earlier in the fall.

We cannot ship trees in September and October. They 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

This is the best time to plant for almost all customers, but it is important that the trees are still dormant when they are planted. The ideal time to plant is when temperatures are still cold but the ground has just thawed and the soil is workable.  Note that the last frost date is not relevant as a guide for spring planting - it is usually too late. It is the temperature of the soil that counts.  Frost is not harmful to newly-planted fruit trees.

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.