Can I Order and Plant Trees and Shrubs in the Fall and Winter?

Nov 17, 2017

Planting Trees and Shrubs in the Fall and Winter

As I was trying to plan in my mind what this week’s blog would be about in-between answering phone calls a light went off in my head. It would be a good time to discuss ordering and planting trees and shrubs in the fall and winter since I’d been receiving calls all day from customers wondering how to handle ordering and planting this time of year. I thought I might take an opportunity to enlighten folks on the mystery surrounding this.

First of Garden Goods Direct is the grower of the plants we sell and we’re located in Maryland, so it is fall here and plants are currently in all their fall colors and beginning to go to sleep for the winter. As some of you may know fall is my favorite time of year because of the wonderful show that happens each year as the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down and the green color disappears. This opens the opportunity for the yellow, orange, and red colors to become visible and gives the leaves their fall splendor.

Planting Trees and Shrubs in the Fall and Winter

The negative aspect of fall, albeit minor, is after the leaves change color they fall off the plant and need to be cleaned up. Fear not though this is the perfect chance for you to plant trees and shrubs and not cause excessive stress to the plants themselves and here are a few reasons why:

  1. Plants store energy during the growing season to provide energy during the fall and winter for them to grow roots. Plants do the majority of root growth during the “dormant” season. That is one of the biggest reasons that we plant up our crops for the following year in the fall and winter here on the nursery.

  2. Stress levels are reduced due to the lack of foliage and soft new growth. This means that the amount of water you have to provide to newly planted trees and shrubs is greatly reduced. In some cases depending on the area you’re in you may only need to water at the time of planting just to settle the soil in around the root zone and let Mother Nature take it from there.

  3. Pruning will not need to be done unless it’s to clean-up a broken branch. By not pruning you don’t risk cutting off the dormant flower buds that are waiting to impress you in the spring.

  4. Evergreen plants such as White Pines, Hollies and Arborvitaes have hardened off their soft growth from last year and again watering will be reduced (side note: at this time of year it’s a good time to assess your sightlines as the leaves are down and you’ll note where you may need some privacy plants).

So know you know the benefits of planting trees and shrubs in the fall and winter, but you’re wondering now what the special handling that will be required might be.

  1. Mulching is important when planting trees and shrubs in the cooler times of year. Mulch will help to maintain constant soil temperatures. Plants are able to grow roots when the soil temperature stays above 45 degrees. By applying a good layer of mulch you will not only extend the time in which the soil maintains that temperature it will also keep soil moisture at a constant level.

  2. Use less fertilizer and the only fertilizer I recommend during this time of year would be Bio-Tone by Espoma. It’s organic so it won’t burn the roots and it is specifically designed to promote root growth while providing very little in terms of nutrients for foliage growth. You do not want to force tender new growth at this time of year.

  3. For trees planted in the winter if you live in a windy area you should consider staking the trees to prevent undue stress on the new roots.

  4. Evergreen plants can be harmed by the drying winter winds and some gardeners insist on spraying plants with either Wilt-Pruf or Bonide Wilt-Stop. If you live in a windy area this is a good safety measure to protect your investment. Both can be found on our website and available in both concentrate and ready to use formulas.

So the moral of the story is, go ahead and plant trees and shrubs in the fall and winter without hesitation. Even though it’s late in the season, your shrubs will be happier in the ground than in pots. Ideally, trees and shrubs need about a month to establish roots before a heavy freeze, but it’s actually OK to plant them anytime the ground is workable, and many professionals plant trees and shrubs in late fall, winter and into very early spring while they’re still dormant. This is going to save you lot’s of watering time in the summer next year when you should be simply enjoying the fruits of your labor. Planting Trees and Shrubs in the Fall and Winter is better than you thought. Be sure to check your USDA Hardiness Zone map to help choose the best trees and shrubs for your area

While you at it read about using Leyland Cypress as a windbreak to calm the energy robbing winds of winter.

See you in the Garden,

Woodie