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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 big 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.

Fall Planting in Colder/Northern Zones (Zones 3, 4, & 5A)

For the individual in the cooler parts of Zone 5 and north, my advice is: plant in the spring. But, if you feel comfortable planting in the fall, take care and plant cold-hardy plants and trees. This includes…

• most varieties of apples (e.g. Honeycrisp™Starkspur® UltraMac™, Cortland Apple). Cold-hardy apple trees do well even when planted in cooler areas in the fall.

• “Zone 4″ plum trees (such as the Bubblegum Plum® and Superior Plum), and cold-hardy peach trees, which tend to fair pretty well for many northern gardeners.

• certain nut trees (like the Stark® Northern Prize Walnut). Be sure to mulch adequately to prevent frost heaving.

Fall Planting in Warmer/Southern Zones (Zones 5B, 6-10)

Growers in Zones 6 and south have a huge opportunity by choosing to plant in the fall. If you are a grower in these warmer zones and you choose to take advantage of fall planting, please make sure you put tree guards on your trees’ trunks to avoid depredation of rabbits and rodents, as well as sunscald. Trees are most vulnerable to these problems in the fall and winter.

Advantages to Fall Planting

Roots are able to settle in. This helps trees gain some establishment, and wake up with nature the next spring. This fall-planting approach is a head-start that can often lead to earlier fruiting and larger yields.

Planting dormant trees diminishes transpiration. When plants and trees are too far advanced (big and leafed out), or if they’re placed in an environment that is too warm at planting time, they give off moisture. This can threaten the plant’s/tree’s well-being and impair its performance by increasing its need for water that, seasonally, may not be readily available.

My favorite time to plant is fall or early spring – when plants and trees are still dormant — to reduce their need for water. This practice works best for both me (growing millions of trees) and you (planting trees in your backyard). 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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27 Comments

  1. verna lawes permalink

    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 permalink

    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. 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 permalink

      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 permalink

    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 permalink

      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 permalink

    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!!!

    • 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 permalink

    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?

    • 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 permalink

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

  8. Barb Funk permalink

    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

    • 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 permalink

        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

        • 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 permalink

    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

    • 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 permalink

    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!!

    • 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 permalink

    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.

    • 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 permalink

    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!!

  13. Leo permalink

    Hi,
    I planted five dwarf asian pear trees in my backyard last week (2 hardy giants, 2 New century, and 1 Hosui) and had a couple of questions. When I dug the holes I noticed that the top inch or so was nice brown/black soil but it quickly went to a very sandy soil as I went deeper than that superficial layer. I dug the holes about 3′ by 3′ and planted the trees with about 1/3 miracle grow brand garden soil, 1/3 peat moss and 1/3 the very sandy soil. Was that the right thing to do? I’m concerned I might have problems with these trees both in the short and long term because 1) the type of soil on my property and 2) the roots may only contain themselves within this more “pleasant” environment and not want to extend beyond it in later years. I felt like planting these trees in practically sand was not a viable option.

    My second question is how frequently I should be watering these trees. I put 2-3″ of mulch at the base and I’m in zone 6A if that helps.

    Thanks!

    • The mulch will definitely help keep the soil moisture from readily evaporating off and keep weeds down at the same time! :) Your amendments should work well — especially the peat/sphagnum moss — to help retain/distribute moisture, which will help the roots become established as your tree grows. I think you’ve provided your new trees a good start.

      Sandy soil tends to drain quickly, so you may need to water more frequently to avoid water stress in your trees. You should water every few days after the trees are first planted, using about a gallon of water per tree (about the equivalent of an inch of rainfall).

      If it is forecast to rain in that time, let the rain take care of watering your trees, and you won’t need to water additionally around that time. Usually, we recommend watering once every 7-10 days for young trees, but you may need to water more frequently if your sandy soil drains quickly and if you aren’t expecting any rain in the forecast.

      Your trees’ roots will naturally spread beyond the amended planting hole as they grow. Development of new roots primarily depends on moisture.

      I hope this information is useful to you, Leo! :)

  14. Jonathan Young permalink

    I bought 2 apple trees, 1 pear tree, 1 nectarine tree, and 1 cherry tree from Stark bros last November. I planted around the third week of November. It snowed a few days later. I live in Michigan and we had a brutal winter. Extreme cold and mountains of snow. All winter I regretted having not waited until spring to buy the trees.

    But then, every tree starting growing leaves around mid-april and the trees all look great! It is amazing how these small, dormant trees were unfazed by extreme winter conditions. The trees are definitely more comfortable having already been planted when spring came around.

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