Best practices for planting bareroot fruit trees

lindsgardenDecember 26, 2011


Since this is the season when many home growers are ordering bareroot fruit trees and bushes, what do experienced growers do in terms of picking shipping dates (in relation to last frost) and planting trees?

In talking with staff at one nursery selling bareroot trees I was told that it was best to plant bareroot trees after the danger of frost had passed because if the tree leaved out and then was hit with a frost it could die. In that case, I probably should not be planting any bareroot stock until at least early-mid April when frosts become unlikely (see charts below from this link for Southern MD:

What works for you? [Links to old threads are also good]

Last year I didn't plant anything until May so this was not an issue.

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Tradition has it that in a zone as low as #7, late-fall early-winter planting is better, though spring planting is still OK. The roots will grow in the unfrozen soil even with leafless plants. Northern areas with deep soil freezing were/are said to be susceptible to frost heaving in the planting hole and late-winter or spring planting is better there, so it is said.

At the 7/8 boundary I have had good success with late-fall early-winter planting, and where I can water spring planting has done fine too.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2011 at 5:42PM
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As low in latitude (or as warm), I meant to say, not low in zone number

    Bookmark   December 26, 2011 at 5:44PM
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alan haigh

The main thing is to get them in the ground before they begin to grow to get most thrust out of the crucial first surge of growth. Bare roots are not all equal and if they've lost a lot of root they may not be able to provide the above part of plants enough water to avoid winter dessication, but even when this happens it probably won't be more than a set-back.

The idea that there's danger of freezing young growth seems like a mistake to me- I've never had that happen and I've dealt with 1,000's of bare root fruit trees over the years. If they aren't already growing when they come out of the box they aren't going to begin growing until the weather is warm enough not to freeze off those green buds- they can take much colder than freezing anyway.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2011 at 6:10PM
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In dallas jan is a great time to plant bare roots. I'd be surprised if md is any different.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2011 at 6:39PM
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I plot my trees on paper before ordering.
I then till up a bed of about 24 X 36 inches & 18 deep.
I add organic matter because my soil is sandy.
The OM goes over the whole bed, but I break the sub soil down 30 inches in the center of the bed & water the hole so the soil will settle.
I do this before the tree arrive in late winter, last of February.
I will be doing this with Live Oak this week.

    Bookmark   December 26, 2011 at 7:09PM
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I chronically plant too early. That's because I'm paranoid about planting too late. Not all nurseries are good about sending dormant stock. That's more of a worry if you live in Z5 than Z7, I admit. If your nursery doesn't have a refrigerated warehouse you may receive stock that has already broken dormancy if you wait until towards the end of the planting season.

If you can work the ground and you aren't actually fooling with the tree in freezing weather, you are OK absent some kind of catastrophic (like -20) cold snap, if the tree is dormant. The nurseries seem to be pretty good about maintaining a reasonable weather eye and not shipping in front of a polar express. I am also of the opinion that if you wait until the last possible minute, you are likely to get a runt of a tree. That has been my experience. Its just human nature for the nursery to avoid shipping the Charlie Brown tree unless its the last one in inventory.

I made the mistake of planting in fall. In my zone, that meant that my trees were killed by the big cold snap last year. Probably planting in fall would work OK in Z7, though I doubt that there is much point in taking the chance.

I'm always worried that the trees I order from the West coast will be transshipped through Phoenix and expire from the heat. So I wait until the possibility of a catastrophic cold snap passes, which is probably late February early March, here.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2011 at 9:04PM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

When I grew in zone 6 with sticky clay soil, I'd dig the planting holes in fall. Then by planting time in February the soil was crumbly and went in around the roots very well.

I've never seen serious foliage damage on any fruit trees newly planted or otherwise from spring freezes. And I've seen many dozens of spring freezes that damaged the fruit. One of the worst I remember was 13F two nights in a row on peaches in full bloom. No tree or foliage damage. New growth a foot or more long on apricot will freeze stiff without damage.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 9:43AM
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To summarize:

- If bareroot trees arrive (and have not started growing during the shipping process due to high temps on the UPS truck ) then experience shows it is safe to plant once the ground can be worked and the weather is not constantly below freezing.

- If bareroot trees arrive and have started growing during the shipping process, then apparently it is still okay to plant when freezes may happen??? [I feel like less has been posted on this type of situation . . . maybe because it is rare. However, in a situation where stuff is being shipped from California during a warm snap then goes to the east coast during a warm snap, maybe this is possible.]

Kokopelli - You have somewhat confirmed my fear of the "charlie brown tree" . . . lol.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2011 at 7:55PM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Lind, I have never seen Kokopelli's problem in zone 7, the 20 degree difference from zone 5 to 7 is huge. The only thing I avoid is planting trees in a cold spell, like below 20F.

If bareroot trees have started growing during the shipping process, you are in deep trouble -- they are going to go into shock whatever you do. I would probably pot them up and keep them out of bad weather if you want to give them the best odds. And call up the nursery to complain.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 12:08AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX

I've planted trees that were growing on arrival. Mostly late shipped trees in say April. Some even from good nurseries like Raintree. They and others won't ship in winter when I need the trees due to freeze issues enroute.

I've never lost one of those trees that I can recall and it's hot here in late March into April. Just cut them back hard and they'll grow. One advantage is you can see what's pushing. Cut the tree back even to one bud if necessary.

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 9:26AM
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I don't understand the common nursery concern over bareroot hardy plants freezing in shipment. As long as they are packed so roots cannot be bent and broken when frozen solid what is the problem?

    Bookmark   December 29, 2011 at 9:32AM
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Scott and Fruitnut - Thanks for your latest posts, I'm clearer now on what to do when my trees start pouring in and I hope this thread will be helpful for other newbies :)

Fruitnut - One more question to clarify, have the already-growing-during-shipment trees that you've planted taken frosts okay?

    Bookmark   December 30, 2011 at 7:21AM
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fruitnut Z7 4500ft SW TX


Don't remember facing any kind of serious freeze on those late planted, already growing trees. This hasn't been a common occurance. But nothing to lay awake at night worrying about in my experience.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2011 at 9:17AM
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Scott F Smith(6B/7A MD)

Fruitnut, I expect our differing experiences are related to how leafed out the trees were. Raintree has a cooler so the tree should have been dormant when it left and so it cannot have leafed out much at all. The trees I had that died were from a nursery with no cooler and the leaves were an inch long in some spots.

In any case I agree that lind is over thinking things here, nearly all trees arrive fully or nearly dormant.


    Bookmark   December 30, 2011 at 10:43AM
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I received and planted my trees just before Christmas in So. In. They arrived dormant and our ground has yet to freeze. Two are not recommended for my region so I planted them together in a 20 gallon pot as per fruitnut's techniques. Although I don't know that he's done it with my varities, Cot N Candy and Tomcot.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2011 at 9:01PM
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