How to Upkeep Bare Root Trees from Fall to Spring?

Since the weather has been volatile over the past few winters, I just wonder what is the best way to keep trees alive from fall to spring.

Some fruit trees may sell out in spring, so I may want to order some bare root trees in the fall. I can plant them right away in the field, but the winter can be tough for 2-3 years old trees. Most of the sources say “heeling in”, but again weather decides the fate of the trees.

If I only have a few trees, I’m thinking maybe I can plant (heeling in) the trees in large pots and put the pots in garage for the winter.

I’m not sure if pot/garage would be more successful for the trees than planting outside…

Winters in NJ aren’t that bad. You don’t drop below zero my much or often do you? If not there’s really little to no reason to lose a newly planted tree over winter. The only reason I can think of besides cold is wet soil. And wet soil is no harder on a newly planted tree than an older tree. If your soil is too wet plant on a mound.

To answer your question planting in fall would be better than potting and replanting in spring.

Why have you lost trees in the past and/or think you’ll lose them going forward?

I think it’s harder to get watering right in a garage or barn over winter. I’ve lost young trees that way. I’ve never had any problems just directly planting in ground in the fall… and I’m in the Boston area.

I do not remember how many times, but the temp did drop below zero degree F. The other thing is weather extreme, from warm to cold quickly. It would be fine for a more mature tree, but too much stress for 2-3 year old tree. I’ve never lost a store bought container tree, but did lose some bare root fruit trees.

Your weather in winter isn’t nearly as variable as west Texas. We regularly have 50-60F swings about every 5 days on average all winter long. That means 60-70 dropping to 10-20 usually in a matter of 12-36 hrs over and over all winter long. That doesn’t happen in NJ. And hasn’t caused me to lose any dormant trees in 45 yrs. 2-3 yr old trees are fully hardy.

Yep. This past year I ordered from Peaceful Valley to get some trees on Citation. They don’t have cold storage, so they ship them out as soon as they get them from DWN. I think I got mine at the beginning of January. The ground is frozen by then, so I just stuck mine in pots with potting soil. I kept them in an unheated storage area, but had heat cord to keep the roots from freezing during the extreme lows. I used moisture meter to help keep the soil moderated around 50%. I was more worried about root rot from over watering than under watering. However, I noticed they all looked a little dehydrated when I went to plant them 4 months later. Some of the branches died back. I was a little worried they might not make it, but they are all doing great now. I guess it takes a few bad experiences to get a feel for the proper moisture when overwintering potted plants.

I second the opinions of everyone else here and being Z6 in the mountains, my climate is probably most closely related to your’s. Last few winters we’ve been well below zero multiple times and west Texas knows nothing of cold like here or at your place. I cannot however say I’ve witnessed regular 60 degree drops in 12 hours (that’s incredible), but suffice it to say. cold in Z6 is a problem.
Don’t try to do the garage/pot thing…it’s bad news in so many ways. I’ve done it so many times with so little success that I felt I had to respond. Put it in the ground…freeze protection may not be assured, but it’s monumentally better than anything you will likely offer in a unheated garage. Try adding a little heat in that garage and it might break and then you got a screwed up tree like I have now. AJ makes a good point about root rot too, I never even considered that, but it’s a real possibility in my mind and something I also would have been concerned with had I thought of it.
You really should have bought a few weeks ago when everyone was fire saleing if you were even considering doing the pot thing. SMC makes a super-duper good point about watering. You think you’ll be mindful of it, and maybe you will, but if your like most of us, you’ll lose track (holidays, family emergencies…whatever) and that can get you into trouble that way. So many potential pitfalls.
Good luck in whatever you decide.

I assume in the process of buying from where you want you have to receive the trees at that time? Many nurseries will hold paid for trees and ship them in the spring.

Thx for all the comments. I was just not sure about it. I’ll either take on some risk and plant the trees in fall, or wait until spring time. Planting bare root trees is still tricky…