To plant or not to plant during Fall & Winter?

I’m planning to plant as many trees as possible during fall and winter though the question is should I? Spring trees have always done better for me though I can’t really explain why. This year I have to much going on to wait for spring for everything.

I plant more in fall than spring because it is a much wider window. Here in NYS Z6 it works as well as spring planting for most species. Only mulberry, of species I plant, seems to suffer more die back and sometimes worse from fall instead of spring planting.

It may be important to mulch fall planted trees with an insulating mulch to prevent freezing and thawing of soil after the shock of transplanting.

Much of my planting involves large (2.5" caliber) trees although I also move a lot of younger, smaller material.


Last fall, I moved a couple of young apple trees that I grafted the previous spring. All of them did well.

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I’ve planted a lot of young apples, persimmons, and peaches this fall. Fall planting works best for me and like Alan said, I always layer with mulch. The only thing I don’t plant in fall anymore because of a few unsuccessful experiences is pawpaws.

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Fall planting (at least for apples) is recommended for zone 6 and higher. You are on the edge. Your zone 5b can get just a bit colder, so you might be pushing it. I don’t know, but I would imagine the threat comes from how deep; how hard; and how quickly the ground freezes around the roots.

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Lately we have felt more like zone 6 than 5. Last year I planted a row of apples and got away with it. Right now we are covered in ice rain. When I was a kid we lost some zone 5 trees due to it being to cold.

I had a nursery in Z5 and moved things bare root in the fall by the score for several years. From my reading of the literature and experience, the key danger is freeze-thawing pushing roots away from soil contact in colder areas. An airy mulch or even a mulch that will hold enough water to remain frozen solid through warm spells will prevent this.

It seems that when this was brought up on the GW forum some time back there were those who successfully employed fall transplanting as far north as Canada in a Z4.

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Thank you for the clarification I had a misunderstanding of the cold always being a bad thing. It sounds like constant temps are desirable but those are very difficult to achieve in this area.

I heard fall is better but no tree I ever planted in the fall made it, so I stopped doing it. Here I feel like zone 5 instead of 6. It’s been so cold it is ridiculous, it’s getting old very fast!

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We went through that and since it’s been working the other way I’m dreading that nasty weather someday coming back.

Once Alan and I looked at the past weather for both NY and Detroit area for about 30 years. That was fun, and it turned out our weather was quite alike. So yeah we are due some warm weather here, and it will happen. Even the summer was cold, but we did have a string of super warm summers in the 90’s and beyond.
My browser displays NY weather as a default, and I change it to my zip, so I have been seeing both a lot and we have been a lot colder this year. Sometimes by 20 degrees. Seems everywhere is warm except around the Great Lakes.

Morton Arboretum recommends fall, from mid aug to mid Oct. they are in the Chicago area. They state planting later than that does not give roots time to establish before hard freeze. They also note that some species are better suited for Fall, and others for Spring.

My recollection is, most sources state pawpaw should be planted when growth begins, due to fragile root systems without a lot of fine roots. The same for persimmons on D. virginiana root stock. I bought a containerized persimmon last month, and did my best to avoid root trauma when planting it. I think it will do OK. The roots looked quite fine, so it might be on D. lotus.. We are in different zones, so my experiences might not count for you.

If I relied on the horticultural experts my hands would be tied for much of the year from doing tasks that I now regularly do. It took me years to sort out Cornell advice, the stuff I was taught in Hort school and the realities of my own direct experience. In the horticultural world a lot of one size fits all truisms are passed on that are based on minimal research with a single or few species. Some apply widely, some don’t.

Cornell said to only transplant bare roots in early spring- that was wrong for me. I have transplanted thousands of trees over the last 25 years during fall, right up until the ground freezes in mid to late Dec.

Perhaps they had some research that showed a few species that don’t transplant well at that time or maybe they didn’t use an insulating mulch. If trees die, I lose money. If I can’t go out and do my job, I lose money. If Cornell dispenses inaccurate advice that only stops a grower from planting or pruning at a time they could, only the grower loses money, and most likely, won’t figure out it was bad advice. If they do, they can’t prove it anyway.

I agree that trees without a fibrous root system may be less accommodating to bare root fall transplant. I don’t manage pears bare root once I put them in the ground from the original nursery, spring or fall. It is surprising that mulberries have been a problem for me with their very fibrous and substantial root systems.


Digging mulberries is a lot of work even with a sharp shovel and wet ground. I transplant them sometimes in early spring and they are at least 5 x more work than any other fruit tree I work with to dig up. I love that toughness about them because part of the year I can ignore the tree. They have no enemies here, don’t need spray, don’t get Fireblight etc. . I dislike those same tough qualities of mulberries when I prune them and they dull my saw blades. A fast job with them becomes a long job.

Illinois Everbearing has relatively soft wood but the tree keeps pushing it out. I have to summer prune it pretty late to avoid a lot of regrowth.

Mulberries have roots that look and grow like the roots of willows. I think of them as a pioneer species that grow fast and die young.

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So many times I have heard you say just the opposite. In one discussion you linked to Linda Chalker-Scott web page. Where she has a lot to say with no references at all. Seems like a finger in the wind, or what mood of the day.
Often wanting research backed opinions only, and saying others (anecdotal) are useless.
Here I go by experience and every tree in the fall I planted died. Makes my decisions easy as to when to plant.

Drew, I never said the opposite, and I never said I ignored research, I consider it. Some I view as valid in many circumstances, some I don’t. It depends on the nature and breadth of the research.

Anecdotal evaluations are not all equal. I’ve been moving bare root plants in the fall by the score for 25 years in Z 5 and 6 with a couple where temps got below -20 and down to -`15 is common…

When someone spreads a mychorizal amendment on normal soil without any control and says it seems to work and I look at careful research that clearly shows the opposite, I’m going to mention it even if research isn’t absolutely conclusive and there is a chance the person found real benefit.

I am trying to provide useful information here- not trying to prove anything. Maybe my methods won’t work in your neck of the woods, but I suspect you are doing something differently. If you explain what you are doing more clearly (are these bare roots, are they in pots, are you mulching after transplant and with what, were the plants vigorous before going into dormancy…) I would better be able to evaluate what you are doing,

The plants I’m moving are strong and vigorous. In my nursery they usually don’t get mulched until the following spring, but the soil is airy and light and not subject to cracking open from freeze-thaw.

I know I presented thousands of studies that showed it did work. I never seen any that showed the opposite.

The plants that died were mulched and were peach and plum trees. The peach trees were some of the best looking bare root trees I ever saw. Awesome looking trees. The plums were not good looking, well one was, and one was not. Raintree is replacing one this spring. From different nurseries too. Whatever happened seems consistent here, so I’m out of the fall planting game. I know it can work, it just has not for me. 0 and 4 I give up. I can’t afford to experiment with fall planting. I had better luck with bare root in June (the summer) than fall. I planted 15 dogwoods from Raintree in June, all survived and are still here 5 years later. They were seedlings too, only a foot high or less.

Well in my case you failed, as I find your advice extremely confusing. Hey maybe it’s me? Probably is. Not all of it, you have helped me a lot actually. I don’t mean to be disrespectful, not trying to be, just telling it like I see your post it makes more sense to me now. I think all gardening is local, and well works works one place may not in another even if a few miles away.

Well for me it was excellent advice I should have followed. All gardening is local. Last year I planted some currants in the fall 89% didn’t make it. I’m trying again this year, but under more controlled conditions. In pots, and in the garage for the winter. IMHO the harsh winters of the last 2 years is the problem. I need to control environmental factors better and mulch didn’t help here. It works well for established plants, but not so much for young plants here.

Drew. are you talking about plants that were shipped to you and you planted in the fall? I am only talking about digging them up and moving them on the same day while keeping roots wrapped with wet sheets- that is where my experience lies, although I once fall planted 25 apple trees shipped from a nursery bare root and every one of them thrived. However, apples can survive a lot of root damage and small apple trees tend to completely regrow their root systems when transplanted anyway. I dont think that is true of peaches at all.

Most ordered nursery trees arrive with butchered roots, the trees I’m talking about have the roots painstakingly extracted and are moved with most of the root systems intact and are immediately wrapped when removed from the ground.

No point in taking up the mychorizal thing again- I already invested too much effort in trying to communicate to you on that issue. I looked at every bit of research you submitted and came up with an entirely different interpretation of what they showed, as does Chalker-Scott (and at least a couple others on this forum). You never responded when I pointed out that most of your submitted research was based on pot culture with artificial soil.

Yes, and you know now that you mention moving in the fall, I did that too! Once, and it was like I never moved it, it even fruited.

OK, well at least we can agree that is works in containers. I don’t think native soil though always has every species you need like with say blueberries. So it can work in ground too IMHO. For most plants, you probably don’t need it. Although I thought some of the research showed adding extra did help get it there. At least one article pointed out that it takes years for the normal flora fungi to colonize without help. That adding flora even common to the area helps speed things up. I stopped responding as I felt like I was running into a brick wall. I did respond to in ground versus container, and just did again above. It still can help as shown by some of the articles I posted. So yes we interpreted the research differently.
Well at least the discussion is there and anybody interested has a starting point for their own research on how to proceed. So to sum it up you say it’s there, it does nothing to help. I say even if there, concentrating spores in the root zone makes the process of establishment faster, thus normal growth starts sooner. Assuming your adding the correct spores. Another point I made is for 5 bucks, it’s not a great loss if it does nothing. And that’s 5 bucks a season for every plant up to 150 plants.
Espoma now produces Biotone which is just enhanced soil. It has fungi, bacteria, and humic acids and maybe worm castings.
Now the benefit of worm castings and humic acid are also worthy of discussion. I’m not yet convinced they help. Especially humic acid since your run of the mill pedestrian compost is teeming with it, why add more than what’s in compost? Worm castings are an uber compost, and may be beneficial.