Fall planting of pawpaw seedlings

Thanks to a kind member who sent me seeds this spring, I’ve got small number of first-year pawpaw seedlings. I’m trying to figure out how best to care for them over the winter. I searched a bit, but didn’t find a direct answer that fits my needs.

The two easiest choices would be to plant them out in their final location this fall, or to wait until they go dormant and store them in my 40-50F basement until next spring. I unfortunately don’t have an easy way to store them just around freezing without risking that they’d freeze hard, although I could try to rig something up.

They are currently about 1’ tall, in 14" Deepots on a semi-shaded porch. I’m in Zone 5 Southern Vermont, and probably expect a winter low around -15F. Snow cover is generally decent, although not impossible that we’d go below zero with none. We’re just getting into fall leaf color season now, but most trees (including the pawpaw seedlings) still have green leaves.

I’m tempted to plant them out, mulch them well, put a cage around them, and grow them under a shade cloth next year. Would this be a bad idea? Would I be better with them in the cool-but-well-above-freezing basement so they can stay in pots another year? Or do I need to figure out some way keep them somewhere right around freezing?

I am in the same boat… mine are the same size. Hoping we get some expert advice… but common sense tells me that if a seedling germinated in the wild at the same time it would be in the ground this fall. Supposedly 75 percent of root growth happens in the fall… so that wont happen in my tree pots.

I would say store them in your basement and plant in the spring or early summer. I’ve planted successfully in the fall but I am in TN where our lows rarely dip below the teens during our coldest spells.

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Im in Northern Vt. i burried up my seedlings in pots last winter. Every one that didnt drown and rot made it through the winter fine. The ones that got too wet sent up suckers from their remaining stub of half rotten roots.

Me too. My climate is very different-zone 7b.

Based on prior experience with other trees and very limited prior experience with Pawpaws, I’m planning on getting them in the ground this fall. In my climate the spring temperatures are very erratic, often warming up significantly, leading to plants waking up, and then freezing again. Newly planted trees with tender growth really suffer from that cycle, especially if we go on to have a dry summer, which often provides a killing blow to stressed trees.

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I’m in 5b C NH and plan to keep mine in my unheated basement this winter. I’m letting them go dormant and then put them in the garage until it starts getting into the mid 20s in there. Then they’ll go into the basement. Soil temps in the 40s with mostly darkness should keep them in dormancy.

The biggest concern would be the subzero temps with no snow pack. But they’re native to IA, MI, and W NY so they can handle some intense cold even as seedlings. I kept them in my garage once all winter and probably lost half of the seedlings with the other half suffering some root dieback. It probably got down to a calm 0-5F in there. At least I found out which ones were hardiest in the root zone.

The advantage of keeping them in the basement is you can bring them out sooner in the spring and maybe get a jumpstart on leaf out over the in-ground ones. I did that with a few potted ones last year and probably picked up 2 weeks on the existing trees.

I saw a recent thread somewhere stating that fall planting, once thought very risky for pawpaws by some, including me, has recently shown good results and does not need to be avoided. I lost every pawpaw I planted in the fall years ago, but they were bareroot.

I do suggest trying your best not to disturb the roots in any way when planting. Do not fluff up the rootball or tease out roots with your fingers. I want the pawpaw to not even realize it has a new home. Pawpaws I have worked with do not like their roots messed with.


Concur 100%.
KSU once advised against fall planting but is now reversing. However, if you have the opportunity and can irrigate I still would plant in spring.

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Just read the OP.
Definitely if I were in your shoes I’d keep ‘em in the basement and plant after all danger of frost next year.
Give them a drink before storing them and then likely you won’t want to water again all winter.
As it starts warming up outside, keep an eye on the seedlings for breaking dormancy. If they wake up early it’s fine, see if you can move them inside to a sunny-ish spot.

Most answers seem to offer good advice so you have several options. Maybe do half n half, basement and caring for all winter, vs digging them in at least as deep as you ultimately will plant them, then take up leaves from the area to cover the planting well with some stakes by each to protect snow loading. I plan to keep all mine outside as described above, but your frost zone is deeper than mine here in Wa, some check where your frost zone goes there and try to protect them as well as you can by covering.
If you ask around to determine how deep you will plant them to survive. There may be members in your zone with good advice on how deep
Good luck
Kent, wa

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His location in VT makes a big difference. The Bennington and Brattleboro areas can lose the deep snowpack at times in the valleys with strong warm air advection and then quickly go back into the deep freeze when the cold moves back in. The higher terrain will pick up a lot more snow and get more upslope assist as well. A little further NE of those areas and they can keep the cold air damming longer during warm advection events to preserve the snow.

I’m in the lakes region of NH and the cold usually wins out at the surface even during strong warm air advection events aloft so we often keep a deep snow pack Dec-Mar. I’ve had winters where my 6” soil temperature sensor never went below 33° due to the snow insulation. So it really comes down to knowing your microclimate and Vermont certainly has a lot of them.

Keeping them in your basement and not letting them dry out should almost guarantee near 100% survival. Planting them now leaves you with some question marks.



In Kentucky, I ignore mine for the next 6 months outside under forest trees in pots.

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I’ve got 58 seedlings in the smaller diameter tree pots around the same stage around 3-5 leaves…some defoliated by slugs. I’ve been debating with myself what to do with them over winter. I think I’ll experiment… some outside in ground, others outside in pots and the rest in the garage in pots. I’m too indecisive and curious not to have fun with it.

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I planted ~ 100 2yr old pawpaws from 2 1/2in x 10in tree pots last October. With about 90% survivors, which I think is good.
One year old potted seedlings I keep in well mulched beds outside overwinter, here in Wv. The tops are ok above ground / mulch , but roots / pots need some cover to protect from freezing the roots.
I don’t usually transplant 1yr old seedlings to the field because they usually lack enough roots to hold the root ball together .
Keep in nursery until 2yrs old .,


If you really want to plant a Pawpaw 1yr old , or other tree ,that has a inadequate root system from a tree pot. Here is a method that I have successfully used ……
Dig a hole not much bigger than the tree pot. Make sure the pot will fit the hole.
With a razor knife cut the bottom off of the pot, cut all the way up one corner, holding it together place in hole , put soil around pot in hole , gently wiggle the pot out of the hole.
If done gently, the tree never knows it has been moved


Love it- I did something similar years ago when planting in ground a just- rooted tiny fig cutting in the fall- and it worked. That’s my goal too with pawpaws and figs- they wake up the next morning, look around and wonder where they are.

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I know what some of you are thinking, that you don’t want to ruin a tree pot by cutting it up the side.
A tree pot is worth about 50 cents .
A successfully transplanted Pawpaw tree is worth bushels of fruit.
And they can be used with some duct tape for air layers on figs and other things

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Tis true. But in spring I hardly ever lose the dirt off the roots by turning the pot upside down…I almost never cut pots…I re-use them by the 100’s. And, in spring, if I do lose the dirt, the pawpaw never seems to notice.

Summarizing the thread so far, the consensus seems to be that I could plant them outside and they would probably make it, but the odds are better for if I keep them in the basement for the winter and in pots for another year.

No one seems be worried that 40F-50F is going to be too warm for them to maintain dormancy until spring. Since this was my main worry about the basement, I think I’ll keep put them in the basement. It’s a moist enough basement that I don’t think drying out is going to be a problem.

My current thought then is to keep them outside on the porch until they are fully dormant, and then put them in the coolest spot I can find in the basement. Does keeping them outside until temperatures are down to about 20F and then bringing them in make sense? Or should I bring them in sooner to make sure the soil doesn’t freeze in the pots?