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Fruit Tree Care: Fall Planting

by Elmer on 10/05/2010
Stark Trees Autumn

A few days ago, I stepped outside to experience a cooler morning. The air felt clean — fall was in the air. To those of us who love nature, that annual experience isn’t defined by the calendar, it’s a feeling. Oh, how I love it!

Fall is my personal favorite time of year. Here at the nursery, budding time is concluding, apples are ripening and the tree harvest is just around the corner. Everything here at Stark Bro’s is nearing fruition. In football terms, we’re on the 10-yard line! And, because we grow our own trees, they are available to you for fall planting.

There are many good reasons for fall planting.

One reason is that roots are able to settle in, gain some establishment, and wake up with nature the next spring. This approach can often lead to earlier fruiting and larger yields. Another reason for fall planting is transpiration. When plants are too far advanced, or they’re placed in an environment that is too warm, they give off moisture. This can threaten the plant’s existence or impair its performance. In any event, it increases its need for water. My favorite time to plant is fall or early spring, to reduce the plant’s need for water. This practice works best for both me (growing millions of trees) and you (planting trees in your backyard).

For the individual in upper Zone 5, my advice is: don’t be afraid to plant most varieties of apples (e.g. Honeycrisp™Starkspur® UltraMac™, Cortland Apple), Zone 4 plums (such as the Bubblegum Plum® and Superior Plum) or nuts (like the Stark® Kwik-Krop® Walnut) in the fall. Be sure, however, to mulch adequately to prevent frost heaving. You growers in Zones 6 and south have a huge opportunity by choosing to fall plant. If you choose to take advantage of fall planting, please make sure you put tree guards on your trees to avoid depredation. Trees are most vulnerable to this problem in the fall and winter.

Here at Stark Bro’s, we want to give you, the grower, every advantage to succeed. Having plants available in the fall is just one of them. Hope you’re enjoying these beautiful fall days as much as we are!

– Elmer

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24 comments on “Fruit Tree Care: Fall Planting

  1. verna lawes on said:

    I appreciate this opportunity. I have a small rock garden which contains a 15 yr old) red japanese maple tree (small) and a quince tree (small). The quince tree bears fruit but not edible. There is ample room in the space to plant other things. What I want to do right now:(oct.) is to 1- remove rocks & wash them, 2-trim maple & quince trees, 3-plant some spring bulbs (lillys), 4-put back rocks.

    please advise me if this is the right time of the year for this project. i live in zone 5. what do i need to accomplish this? thank you very much. verna

  2. Judy on said:

    Verna, it is a good time to for revitalizing your rock garden. :) Wash the rocks now, but, I would wait until the maple and quince trees are dormant and then trim them. I would then put the rocks in place and naturalize the bulbs amongst the rocks. Let us know how it turns out!

  3. Jordan Holtam on said:

    I planted 5 blueberries early last spring and none survived. They were recommended cultivars for North Carolina mountain area. We had a very dry spring and summer which contributed to mortality, which only bears out your points regarding early establishment of roots and transpiration. I am replanting this week.
    I have 3 seeded Niagra grapes. These are established vines 4 years old. I want to graft a seedless Niagra or other green grape. I cannot locate a source of budwood on the internet. can you advise?

    • Meg on said:

      Thanks for stopping by, Jordan! Per Elmer, this is where we get our grape budwood from:
      Double A Vineyards
      10277 Christy Rd
      Fredonia, NY 14063
      715.672.8493

      Hope that helps!

  4. Sandy on said:

    Hi,
    I am in zone 8A… Not sure exactly what that means. But I’m sure, helpful to you. (Sacramento, CA) to me.

    I planted a dwarf navel orange tree in April 2008… 3 years later, it is still the same size and looks no-where near bearing fruit.

    So I tried again last year, April 2010, and planted a pluot tree. This one is showing white flowers this year. But remains its tiny self.

    I am looking to add a dwarf pink lady apple tree, to my non-bearing fruit collection… :)

    But seeing how I have had no luck to date, am wondering if I am just wasting my money and time.

    I should also note that the soil in my yard is like clay. Not sure if this is the problem or if I am doing something wrong…. Please Please advise.

    Thank you for your time,
    Sandy

    • Brenda on said:

      Hi Sandy! Greetings to California! So sorry to hear the trees are not doing well in your area. :-(
      Have you amended your clay soil at all? This could be the reason. We recommend amending the soil with compost, peat moss & sand. If you’ve amended your soil, I’ll look at other reasons for this problem.
      FYI: the Pink Lady will need a pollinator to bear fruit.
      I look forward to your reply!

  5. Joan on said:

    Hi, as a newcomer to Ohio I hired a landscaper to put a small orchard in my large yard. All of the plants came from your nursery and seem to be doing very well. I have 2 Kieffer pears, an Ozark premier plum, a Simka plum, an UltraRed Johnathan Apple Higred, a Royal Gala Apple Tenroy, and a Royalton Sweet Cherry, 7 trees total. I asked for dwarf trees but now, 4 months later I believe I have full size trees and, I think they’re planted too close together. They are planted in two rows, about 8 feet apart within the row and 12 feet between the 2 rows. Do I need to move some of them? And if so, when is the best time to do it. I look forward to your reply. Thank you!!!

    • Sarah on said:

      Hi Joan! Dwarf apple/pear/plum trees will grow to be about 8-10 ft tall at maturity (sweet cherries get a little taller — 12-14 ft at maturity). These fruit trees in their standard (full) size would be 18-25+ ft tall. You can read more about the differences between dwarf and standard in our article, Fruit Tree Sizes.

      Since the trees your landscaper planted have only had 4 months to grow, it would be surprising for your trees to have reached their full heights already, especially if they were standard trees.

      Dwarf fruit trees really only need about 8 ft of space between each tree, so it sounds like they are planted with a comfortable amount of space from one to the next. Trees go through a certain amount of shock if they are transplanted, so we don’t recommend moving them if you don’t absolutely have to.

      Don’t worry, Joan. :) It sounds like your home orchard is growing very well for you, and I do believe that your landscaper planted your dwarf fruit trees with enough space for each to thrive.

  6. Ryan on said:

    I bought some balaton and montmorency tart cherrys from you guys and I plan on expanding big (100-200 trees, tart cherries) for next year. Im located in western Nebraska zone 5 with late frosts. Do you think it would be a good idea to fall plant or wait until spring for them?

    • Sarah on said:

      We do have these trees available to ship in the fall, but many of our northern growers prefer to plant in the spring. The reason for this is that we wait for the trees to go dormant for us here, which means we wait to ship until November. Many places, probably Nebraska included, already have frozen ground at this time. It’s up to you, but I’d recommend waiting until spring to plant there! :)

  7. john melone on said:

    I would like to know about paw paw fruit tree any advice thank you.

  8. Barb Funk on said:

    Hi, I am planning to install several fruit trees in my side yard. I already have planted a North Star sour cherry which did OK, but I purchased cut rate farm store trees so the two sweet cherries bloomed and dies (you do get what you pay for). I also have two native Serviceberries which are really amazing fruits! (taste like jam). Anyway, here are my questions. Will my North Star pollinate any sweet cherries, if so which ones?
    can pears, peaches, apricots be planted in fall, I am zone 5b?

    Thanks
    Barb f

    • Sarah on said:

      I wouldn’t recommend a sour cherry tree to pollinate sweet cherries, Barb. For the most part, they tend to have different bloom times. I’d recommend either planting a self-pollinating sweet cherry tree, like Starkrimson® or Stella, or planting two different varieties sweet cherry trees that are compatible for cross-pollination.

      Pears, peaches, apricots, and most other types of fruit trees (especially bare-root) can be planted in the fall in zone 5b. Your zone is the same as ours here in Missouri, and we harvest the bare-root trees we grow here to ship in the month of November to plant when they’re fully dormant.

      I haven’t tried Serviceberries myself, but if they taste like jam… consider me interested! :)

      • Barb Funk on said:

        OH, OK re: the sweet cherries, that must be why I had two different sweets planted. duh.

        Re: the serviceberries, I got them when the conservation district was having a sale of I had picked most of the berries when the berries were red, because they are sweet and tasty, but left some and they continued to ripen to a dark plum and WOW! I don’t know that they will ever be very heavy bearers, but a pretty tree in three seasons and fun to wander into the garden and snack. BTW I see you have Paw Paws for sale; I have a whole woods full of “Michigan Bananas!”

        Just to be clear, the sweet cherries can be planted in fall as well, correct?

        I am going to get my holes dug this weekend for my little orchard. save me being out in November rain forever!
        thanks
        bf

        • Sarah on said:

          Correct: Sweet cherries can be planted in the fall!

          You really have me curious about serviceberries now. I’ll have to be on the lookout for some to try! :)

  9. Catherine on said:

    Good morning!

    We live in Southeast Missouri. Is it now to late to ‘fall plant’ fruit trees here in Mid-November? We’ve had a few nights dip well below freezing now, but the ground has not frozen quite yet. Can we try now, or should we wait for spring?

    Thanks!
    Catherine

    • Sarah on said:

      Hi Catherine! As long as the ground is not frozen, the soil is still workable, so you should still be able to plant this fall. Just try to avoid exposing the roots of the new fruit trees to freezing temperatures when you do plant. I have some things I still need to plant myself, so we’re in the same boat! :)

      If you feel more comfortable planting in the spring, that option is still open for you.

  10. Jesse on said:

    We planted a bunch of fruit trees this fall from your nursery, and I was wondering if we should use any fertilizer on them this year. I’ve read several places where it says not to fertilize in the fall.

    Thanks!!

    • Sarah on said:

      Hi Jesse! You read right. We don’t recommend fertilizing in the fall. Fertilizer, especially one that is high in nitrogen, that is taken up in the fall will cause trees that should be going dormant to try to send out new growth. This growth will be susceptible to winter injury. It’s better to fertilize in spring when the threat of frost has past to encourage your trees to grow. :)

  11. Susan on said:

    This is the first year I have planted in the fall (almond, apricot, and nectarine). We haven’t had much rain in the past week or so, and I’m wondering how often to water, if at all, in the winter. I don’t want the roots to dry out, but I’m also worried about what would happen if I water and then the temperature drops below freezing before the water is absorbed or drains. Suggestions? Thanks.

    • Sarah on said:

      Good question, Susan! Over the winter, precipitation like snow and rain will provide necessary water for your dormant plants and trees. They don’t require as much water, since they’re not growing or experiencing transpiration the way they do during the growing season.

      If you’re experiencing a drought-like winter, you might want to provide some water for the root systems of your trees. If you haven’t already, applying a layer of wood mulch or leaf compost will help keep moisture around the root system.

      It’s actually more harmful for “dry” roots to experience freezing temperatures (or below freezing) than it is for “wet” roots in the same situation. The water acts as a barrier and actually releases (latent heat) energy as it transitions from liquid to solid.

      Of course, this isn’t ideal for the long run, so be sure to water at a time of day where the temperatures will rise above freezing if you do apply any water to your newly planted trees. Again, you don’t need to water if rain or snow is in the forecast, and you don’t have to water any more than once a week or so if things have been dry.

  12. Jesse on said:

    Hi,
    I planted a bunch of fruit trees from you this past fall, and I recently saw your video on how to winterize fruit trees. In the video it showed one of your workers putting mulch around the trunk of the tree. Miller’s nursery, whom you’ve recently bought, always said to move away any mulch around the tree. Also, Adam’s Countys’ website says not to mulch in the winter because it creates a warm home for rodents like moles and voles who will eat the roots. I have to admit, I’m a little confused as to what to do:)
    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!! This is my first year buying from your orchard, but already I like how the trees are looking! Your tips have also been very helpful!!

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