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The Case for Fall Planting

by Meg on 10/01/2010
USDA Hardiness Zone Map

Hello to all you warm-zoned fruit growers!

I’m here today to put to rest a prevalent misconception. Today, with the help of our horticultural expert, Elmer, I will debunk the emotional pull of melting snow, warm breezes, flowers, birds, and bunnies!

This very day, all you southern growers will leave knowing that fall — not just spring — is a great time to plant.

Have some doubts? Allow me to explain!

Examples of warm zones according to the USDA:

  • the eastern area south of the Mason-Dixon line
  • the southwestern states
  • most of California
  • the coastal regions of Oregon and Washington

The Bare Roots

It all starts with some basics of botany: roots. Roots are a plant’s lifeline of nutrients, water and, ultimately, growth. For trees to receive the optimal benefits of this lifeline, their roots need to be securely established in the soil environment. This is very important, especially when the trees are young. Why? Because of the many extreme, and potentially destructive, weather conditions Mother Nature brings, such as biting cold, early frost, strong winds, extreme heat, and drought. Young trees are least likely to survive these unpredictable weather conditions, but their strongest defense is a firmly established root system. Learn more in our related article, The Importance of Roots.

And that, my friends, is the first reason to support fall planting! Says Elmer (our Chief Production Officer and horticultural expert here at Stark Bro’s), weather conditions in zones 6-10 are ideal for planting in fall and establishing new fruit trees. These same conditions are beneficial to helping a young fruit tree adapt quickly to its new location. With fall planting, a fruit tree is subjected to less “transplant shock” (digging up from one location and replanting in another), and the rain/snow helps to settle in the soil around the tree. Even when the air gets cool, the soil remains warmer and the roots of a young fruit tree will grow until the ground freezes.

Why “Dormant”?

My second reason to encourage planting in fall is dormancy. You’ve heard the word, but what does it mean and why is it important? Just like bears, trees have their own winter hibernation, when the plants’ systems take a hiatus for a good winter’s sleep. That’s dormancy! And digging, moving, shipping, transporting, and re-planting are all activities best done when the trees have reached this hibernating stage.

Now, planting dormant trees is just as important in the spring as it is in the fall. The risk of spring planting is actually that wonderful, warming weather: the kind of weather that signals the trees to “wake up” and start growing again. Spring weather comes earliest to the warmer zones, so between the winter’s frozen ground and your warming spring, you have a relatively short window to actually plant dormant trees.

The dangers of planting a non-dormant tree are the affects that sudden frost/severe weather may have on its green growth and a greater chance at water-related stress due to transpiration (“the process of water movement through a plant and its evaporation from aerial parts especially from leaves but also from stems and flowers.” – Wikipedia).

However, fall planting gives you the perfect opportunity to get your trees in the ground while they’re dormant – and they’ll stay dormant for several more weeks! So plant those roots when the trees are asleep; allow the roots to firmly establish; and THEN, when the warm breezes and bird chirps tell of spring on its way, you’ll have some very happy, albeit sleepy, trees.

What To Plant

If you’re trying to figure out what to consider for fall planting, here are a few Stark Bro’s suggestions — trees and plants perfectly suited for warm-zoned growing!

Cinnamon Spice Apple

Apples (for every taste bud)

  1. Ginger Gold®
  2. Cinnamon Spice
  3. Starkspur® Golden Delicious
  4. Granny Smith

Southern Blueberry Sampler

Berries (bushes and brambles)

  1. Southern Blueberry Assortment
  2. Southern Blackberry Sampler
  3. Anne Yellow Raspberry

Southern Pears

  1. Hosui Asian PearBlake’s Pride (European)
  2. New Century (Asian)
  3. Hosui (Asian)

And don’t forget peaches, pecans, and exotic fruits (like figs and citrus) that are virtually staples of warm climates!

See what’s available for your zone at »

Topics → Planting & Growing, Tips


  1. Gerald permalink

    When is the proper time to fertilize? I plant sveral fruit trees las fall and was told not to fertilize @ that time. I have not added any fertilizer since the trees were planted. What type fertilizer is best? Any other issues I need to address?

    We had a very dry summer here in Kentucky and there was not much growth regarding the trees planted last year.



    • Meg permalink

      Hi Gerald :) Fertilizers have nitrogen in them, which promotes green growth. You definitely want to avoid green growth in the fall; we want the trees to lose their leaves and go dormant before winter sets in. Green growth would frost and freeze with the upcoming winterish weather, damaging your trees. So I’d recommend fertilizing in the spring, after the last frost. You will probably want to stop fertilizing sometime before July, so the trees can use up the remaining nitrogen and be ready for dormancy come fall.

      Dry summers require a bit more care with watering, for sure. We recommend 1 inch every 10 days; deep-root watering from rain or a hose. Fertilizing when watering is a good idea, up through June! :)

      What type of fruit trees are you growing?

  2. darryl dowers permalink

    Long Island the southern coast of ct and the east cost south including jersey, and maryland are also Zone 7 .

    • Meg permalink

      Thank you for pointing that out, Darryl! There are many sub-climates around the United States as well, and we could probably dedicate an entire blog post to all the areas that truly make up zones 6-9. :) It’s amazing how different climates can be, based on geography and topography!

  3. Mario permalink

    Reading your article on fall planting,I wondered why living in zone 5 my tree order is being shipped in November.

    • Meg permalink

      For zones 5 and warmer, we ship all of our product, especially bare-root trees, in November for fall planting. We acknowledge that zone 5 is divided into 5A (practically zone 4) and 5B (practically zone 6), so if November is not an ideal time for you personally, or if you prefer planting in spring where you are, you can certainly request to have your order ship in the spring instead – just give our customer support team a call before your order ships (800.325.4180). Thanks for stopping by, Mario :) …what will you be planting this fall?

  4. cyn mcdonald permalink

    if the garden has an inch of mulch
    can my plants reseed themselves and will the baby new plants be able to come up in the spring?
    also is it too late to move my 3 year old peonies this late in the fall- we live in zone 4- mn
    thank you so much -cyn

    • Judy permalink

      Happy Wednesday, Cyn! Thank you for your question about propagating new plants via reseeding. I am sure this will answer questions for a lot of people interested in reseeding.

      There are many factors that affect how successful a plant is in reseeding. The physical environment is extremely important. For a plant to reseed successfully, usually there must be some bare soil for the new seeds to grow in. Certain species of plants will need the soil to have particular nutrients or characteristics for reseeding to be successful. The presence of some substances may prevent a plant from reseeding.

      Which plants are you planing on reseeding?

      It is too late to move your peonies this year. Moving established plants is a simple procedure. Cut the peony stems near ground level in September. Then carefully dig around and under each plant. (Try to retain as much of the root system as possible.)

      Promptly replant the peony in a sunny, well-drained site. In late fall (Nov.), apply a 2-4 inch layer of mulch over the newly planted peonies. Straw is an excellent mulch. Mulching will prevent repeated freezing and thawing of the soil during the winter months that could damage the plants. Remove the mulch in early spring for new growth to begin.

      I hope this information helps you to get your flower gardens into top shape!

  5. JoAnn permalink

    We are wanting to plant a cherry tree and we live in Hickory, NC. Could you tell me if the fall or spring would be a better time to plant? We get pretty cold weather as we are only about 40 minutes from the mountains (Boone). Thanks.

    • Meg permalink

      JoAnn, it looks like Hickory, NC is classified as zone 7A. Fall planting is *perfect* for your area! When you plant a bare root cherry tree in the fall, it will likely be dormant, meaning with no leaves. This is the best state in which to plant, as the roots will be able to put all their focus into settling in & establishing over winter.

      Think of it this way: if a tree is planted in March, the roots will have a month or two to establish before the tree wants to wake up & start growing/blooming. However, if you plant a tree in November/December, you’re giving the roots that many months more to establish in their new environment, making the spring growth that much stronger & easier for the tree. :) Either way works, but when you live in a zone 6 or higher, I would definitely recommend fall planting.

      Which cherry are you considering? Cherry trees are very susceptible to standing water, so be sure to plant them in a very well-drained area. :) Best of luck!

  6. Dan C permalink

    ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS put a metal guard around the trees if you have rodents in your area. I have lost many trees because I neglected this piece of preparation.

    • Thank you for the tip Dan! Rodents and other critters can be very detrimental to your gardens and home orchards. The metal guards work, and sometimes companion plantings discourage destructive animals from getting to your plants and trees as well. For instance, voles dislike bulbs like daffodils so if you plant daffodils around your fruit trees not only will you have an attractive landscape, you will be naturally repelling these unwanted critters! :)

  7. Susan permalink

    I missed this post last fall and therefore lost my opportunity for fall planting, but I love the idea and will be ready for next fall. In the meantime, my blueberries and fig tree have just arrived, but I’m hesitant to plant them since we may still get a few frosts during the end of February and even March (I live in zone 7A). Is it really okay to plant now, or should I hold off for a few days or even a few weeks?

    • Hello Susan :) You may certainly hold off planting your blueberries and fig in the yard if you’re worried about late frosts. You can simply keep them indoors and care for them (water them, allow them light) in pots until you are ready to plant them outside!

  8. Pedro permalink

    I am planting a due to heat dormant tree in August. Do I need to use Myke and root stimulator or am I just better off digging the hole and putting the tree in it without any amends? It is a maple tree. Thank You

    • I’m not too familiar with Myke® specifically, but I do know that Mycorrhizal Fungi are an excellent natural root-stimulator, so there would be no real harm in amending your soil with that. I have heard that their symbiotic relationship with plant roots can be disrupted if there are other fertilizers applied, though (the fungi will feed on this instead). You shouldn’t fertilize after July anyway, to avoid pushing growth when your new maple tree should be going dormant. I hope this helps, Pedro! :)

  9. john steinmeyer permalink

    It is August here in zone 8 (South Carolina) and I have a bare root fig tree to plant. Can I successfully grow this tree planted now in the heat of summer? Please give instructions. Thanks so much. John

    • The heat of the summer is not an ideal time to plant most plants and trees, not to mention bare-root plants and trees. They should already be in the ground before the end of spring or later in the fall, in an ideal situation. It’s difficult for a tree to be transplanted into a new environment during summer because trees give off and require lots of moisture (transpiration) and they often suffer from water-related stress before they can even get established.

      Fortunately, the fig tree isn’t going to do a ton of growing before next spring anyway, so what I’d recommend doing for the future growth and success of your bare-root fig tree is planting it in a container. This way, you can be more in control of the environment — give it light and water to encourage root growth, but also keep it from the season changes it hasn’t had a chance to become slowly introduced to. You can plant it in the ground once the weather cools off later this fall or next spring after the worst of winter there has subsided, if you prefer.

  10. Ryan permalink

    I live in zone 6, eastern KY. When would be a good time this fall to set bare-root fruit trees? I have read that fall is the time, but would like a little more specific timeframe or weather conditions as to when to plant this fall. Would like to get root growth without breaking dormancy before this spring.

    • Stark Bro’s waits until everything is dormant here in NE Missouri (zone 5/6) before we harvest our bare-root tree crop to ship. In the fall, the best time for planting these dormant trees happens around November. The ground is still workable (not frozen solid) at that time in zone 6 and the trees will remain dormant until they wake in spring.

      Once you receive your bare-root fruit trees and are ready to plant, be sure it’s not below freezing outside at planting time. The roots are still going to be sensitive to damage from below-freezing temperatures. Minimize root exposure to these temperatures and plant as soon as possible – meaning have your holes pre-dug before you bring the tree outdoors to plant. A good method is to have your bare-root tree’s roots soaking in a bucket of water while you dig the hole. By the time you’re ready to plant, the roots will be hydrated and your tree can go straight in without delay.

      We also have some information on what to do if you can’t plant when your order arrives here:

      I hope this helps, Ryan!

  11. Jake permalink

    This year I wanted to try planting our apple tree in the Fall to get a good head start for this upcoming spring. We live in the south suburbs of Chicago Illinois Zone 5. We received the Honey crisp Apple tree and planted it the second week of November on a beautiful 55 degree day. It stayed that way for a couple of days and then we were hit by extreme cold for this time of year (Highs in the daytime around 20-25 and lows in the single digits). It has stayed relatively cold (Nowhere near the average of 40-45 for this time of year) and I was wondering if I can expect the tree to live or if I should plan a spring re plant. The ground is not frozen yet as I have been doing some digging in the garden but I was wondering if this sudden long term cold will do it in. I know time will tell but just wondered your thoughts.

    • If you received your apple tree from Stark Bro’s, then it was already dormant and ready for winter when you planted it. Any additional winter protection, like mulch and trunk-protecting tree guards, will help protect against below-freezing temperatures and other harmful winter elements. I wouldn’t worry about the brief period of low temperatures having a negative effect on your apple tree. Honeycrisp in particular is a cold-hardy variety and those short cold snaps shouldn’t phase it. Even if your tree was not yet dormant, the tree will be triggered into dormancy sooner than later.

      If, by spring, you discover that winter did your Honeycrisp tree in, replacing it is always an option, but see how your current tree does first. I think it will surprise you with how hardy it is! :)

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