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Fruit Tree Care: Fall Planting

by Elmer on 10/05/2010
Apple Fall Foliage

A few days ago, I stepped outside to experience a cooler morning. Everything felt crisp – 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)

When it comes to planting in the fall, be mindful of your location’s hardiness zone. For the individual in the cooler parts of Zone 5 and north, where your ground may be frozen by late-October or November, my advice is: plant in the spring. (At Stark Bro’s, fall shipping is only available for customers in zones 3 & 4 by special request.)

However, if you feel comfortable planting in the fall, and you expect your soil to be workable, take care and plant cold-hardy fruit trees. This includes…

• most varieties of apple trees (e.g. Honeycrisp™Starkspur® UltraMac™, and Cortland). 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.

• cold-hardy peach trees, which fair well for most northern gardeners.

• most pawpaw trees and American Persimmon Trees like the Yates Persimmon variety.

Be sure to provide winter protection for success overwintering your new fruit trees!

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

Growers in the warmer parts of Zone 5, Zone 6 and south have a huge opportunity by planting in the fall. If you are a grower in these warmer zones and you choose to benefit from the advantages 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, winter, and even early spring.

Steps to Planting in the Fall

  1. Plan Before You Plant
  2. Dig a Perfect Planting Hole
  3. Plant a Bare-root Tree / Plant a Stark® EZ Start® Potted Tree
  4. How to Safely Delay Planting (if you can’t plant when your order arrives)

Advantages of Fall PlantingStark Trees Autumn

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 leads to heartier growth and even earlier fruiting.

Planting dormant trees diminishes transpiration. When fruit trees – or any plants and trees for that matter – 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 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 – 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 fruit trees – as well as other plants and trees – available in the fall is one of them. I hope you’re enjoying these beautiful fall days as much as we are!

– Elmer

Shop Fruit Trees to Plant This Fall »

29 Comments

  1. 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.

      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.

  2. 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! :)

  3. john melone permalink

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

  4. 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! :)

  5. 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.

  6. 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. :)

  7. 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.

  8. 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. During the growing season, if you use fertilizer or other soil conditioners, be sure to apply these around the drip line of the tree (the circular area on the ground beneath the tips of your trees’ branches). This will help encourage the roots to spread beyond their original, amended planting hole.

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

  9. 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.

    • It’s great to hear your trees pulled through the winter for you, Jonathan! It’s a tribute to your successful planting and choosing varieties that are hardy to your location. Nice job! :)

  10. Mike permalink

    Hello. I live near Pittsburgh, PA, being zone 5B, which appears to be on the border of whether or not to plant fruit or nut trees now or in the spring. I haven’t done much planting at all, and I’m hesitant to spend a lot of money now only to realize spring would have been a more appropriate time for planting. Help!

    • We ship our bare-root plants and trees to your zone around the second week of November. You don’t have to worry about things like snow affecting the plants and trees since they’ll be dormant when you get them, but if your ground is typically frozen there by November, you’re better off sticking to spring planting – usually around late March/early April after the ground thaws again.

  11. Mike permalink

    Thanks for the info. It’s a tough call our weather varies so much here, but chances are it will not be frozen by then. Are there advantages to planting in the fall rather than in the spring?

    • There are advantages to planting in the fall (if you can):

      The sooner the roots are established, the sooner the plants and trees will grow, mature, and produce. When you plant trees in spring, they still need to get established before they really get growing. If they can get started becoming established in the fall, through winter, and into spring, that’s something like a 4-month head start!

      The plants and trees also require less water in the fall since they are already shut down for their dormant rest period. Transplanting during the growing season means plants and trees need lots of water – often to sustain the roots and replenish moisture given off by the leaves (transpiration). When you plant in fall, the plants and trees don’t give off much water due to the cooler weather and lack of leaves, so they experience less water-related stress.

      Keep in mind, if your weather there doesn’t cooperate in the fall, it may be advantageous in your case to plant in the spring instead. It’s better to have happy healthy plants and trees than to try to work against nature in order to get a head start. :)

  12. Stephanie permalink

    We will be getting 2 apple trees this fall. In the past when we get a bare-root tree, we have to soak it for a few hours before planting. I’m assuming we don’t want to do that in the fall, correct?

    • We do still recommend soaking the roots of bare-root plants and trees for a couple hours before planting – even in the fall! This helps give the root systems some good hydration before they are placed in the ground.

      If you’re worried about it being too cold for roots to be wet in the fall, keep in mind that, as long as the temperature at planting time is above freezing, the dormant bare-root trees’ roots won’t mind. Plant during the day when it’s warmer if you can! The roots will be protected once they’re in the soil and you should add a layer of mulch for extra protection for when temperatures cool off at night. :)

  13. Joe permalink

    I received a super dwarf redhaven peach tree in the spring and was wondering if the tree should be wrapped with burlap for the winter or what if anything should I do for winter. Thank you.

    • It depends on where you’re located Joe. If you live in an area that experiences intense winters where temperatures are frequently at or below 10ºF (or worse – below zero!) you should consider providing extra protection for your peach tree, like wrapping its trunk in burlap and straw.

      If your winters are fairly mild and the lowest temperatures fluctuate at or around freezing or just below that, you can follow these steps to winter protection for your peach tree:

      Preparing Fruit Trees for Winter
      Protecting Fruit Trees in Winter

      Keep in mind that animals and winter sun can damage young fruit trees as well, so be sure to protect your tree’s trunk with a tree guard.

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