Fruit trees still dormant?

pistolpMay 2, 2009

So, I ordered 4 trees from about 2 and a half months ago. All trees are 5-7' high. About a month ago the trees came and I planted two in the ground (a Fuyu persimmon and a hazelnut) and two - in large pots (a Wonderful pomegranate and a Brown Turkey fig). All trees came with bare roots and I planted them the day after I received them. The persimmon and the hazelnut were showing new growth already, which had dried out when I received them. The pom and the fig were fully dormant. The roots looked Ok on all the trees.

Anyway, the tress have been in the ground/pots for more than a month now but they still appear dormant. The bark on the hazelnut has acquired a deep red color, (which I take to be a good sign). The pom has just started showing some green in the bark. The persimmon and the fig look fully dormant. The three little branches on the fig have become yellowish and the tips - black. This is probably the adverse effect of all the moisture. I think I did a good job preparing the soil. I added some tree/shrub soil mix, sand, compost, and some 13-13-13 all purpose fertilizer. I water the trees every day unless it rains or the ground seems moist. Can someone tell me if what I see is normal? What should I look for? There appears to be no new growth. Did I do something wrong? The only thing I might have done wrong, it seems, was adding the 13-13-13 fertilizer to the trees in containers. I read somewhere that you shouldn't add fertilizer to a tree in container the first year...


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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I am at the opposite end of the state from you and most fruit tees here, including a small fig tree, broke dormancy long ago. So, I hope someone from a more northern location in Oklahoma can tell you when their fruit trees normally break dormancy in that part of the state because I have no idea.

I do suspect you are going to have serious issues with these trees though. Did you read the previous thread written by Game Bird about her trees from Willis Orchards and all the many responses to that thread? I'll find it and link it below in case you haven't seen it.

The thing you did wrong, in my opinion, was to choose that specific retailer for reasons I won't go into. If you are not well-versed in issues related to that supplier, just google their name and see what you come up with. I'm not sayin this to be unkind, but rather as a "heads up" to anyone else considering ordering trees online that a person needs to do their research first and avoid firms with a lot of negative reviews.

How quickly the trees might break dormancy would depend on many factors, not the least of which would be whether they had been held in cold storage for a long time before they were shipped, or if they were exposed to freezing temperatures while being shipped to you. If they had already begun to break dormancy at the retailer or while being shipped, and then they encountered freezing temperatures while en route to Stillwater, that could have set them back. Still, I would have expected you'd see some growth within the first month.

I am concerned that you are overwatering. While you do not want to let bare-root trees ever completely dry out while dormant, you also don't want to drown them. I assume the fertilizer is granular? That could be an issue. I would only use a water-soluable fertilizer for the entire first year after planting.

The black tips on the one tree could indicate freeze damage, overwatering or even that the tree broke dormancy before it was shipped and the new growth died back because the roots were not in soil and the tree could not take up moisture. It's hard to guess exactly which of those things the black tips indicate.

Be sure you planted the trees at the same depth they were planted at the nursery. You can tell by looking at a bare-root tree just where the soil line came to if you look very carefully. Planting a tree too deeply is a very, very common mistake and causes the death of many innocent trees.

Gently scratch the bark of each tree and see if you have green tissue underneath. If you do, then there is still hope for those trees. If you don't, there is much less hope.

Be patient and wait for Brian or Randy or someone else who is experienced with trees to respond to this question. I also hope Game Bird will let you know how quickly her trees did or did not break dormancy because I think hers arrived at about the same time your trees arrived.

Good luck with your trees. I hope they all break dormancy soon.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 9:20PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I forgot to link the previous thread on Willis Orchards before I clicked "submit", so I came back here to link it.


Here is a link that might be useful: Previous Fruit Tree Discussion

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 9:46PM
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Thank you, Dawn. I may have lost $200. :(
At least the hazelnut seems to be doing well. Except it has not leaves.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 10:11PM
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Try not to get too bogged down by the willis-hate. I ordered 22 trees from them. I received them at the start of April and planted them right away. Due to comments here, I ended up replanting all of them, which was probably the right thing. I don't know. I thought it was.

In any case, they have been slowly breaking dormancy. It doesn't matter much that Dawn's trees growing locally near her, or that mature trees growing locally near me, or near you, have come out of dormancy. Trees shipped bare root are somehow forced into dormancy and they'll come out after they get enough "signals" from the environment that it's time. Mainly I figure that's temperature, moisture and light, like for seeds.

Mine have been breaking dormancy apparently based on variety. The apples grew leaves first, then the apricots, then the plums and cherries. Last time I looked, which was ... I don't know, Wednesday? or before that, I had one plum out of 2 that was still dormant and one cherry out of 4 that was still dormant. Or maybe they were dead. I also have 2 pears that looked great but didn't have leaves yet. The peaches and nectarines I ordered didn't look lively at all, but most of them still had greenish bark.

It's rained so much here and I'd tilled up the soil all around the trees right before it rained. So it's real muddy out there and I haven't been out to look at them. The peaches/nectarines might have growth on them - might not. They might be dead or might not. I'll find out as soon as the ground is dry enough to walk on. Given all the rain, I guess I'm glad I replanted them because it minimizes the chances they'll get drowned.

I'm saying don't get depressed and freak out. I've read through copious commentary about Willis Orchards and most have been happy and most of those not have been able to get replacements for dead trees (though at dates like now, late spring, they won't send you a new tree until the fall). The really angry comments have been from people who didn't understand the replacement policy, wanted a replacement right away in the wrong season, or who refused to pay to ship the dead tree back to the nursery.

Keep babying the trees. It sounds like you got them the same time I did. Also understand that bare root trees are **expected** to have a worse survival rate than balled and burlapped and they lose some of those sometimes too. If you're worried, I'd suggest calling Willis and asking them at what point they'd consider the tree "dead" or not viable. I'm sure they have some point in time, like a month or two or something.

And hang onto your receipt, because without it there's no replacement. Good luck.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 11:33PM
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Oh, and one other thing... You asked about how to tell if they're going to have new growth... for me it seemed to vary by type. The apples had classic swelling buds that erupted into green leaves. The cherries arrived with torn/broken new growth like what you described on your persimmon and hazelnut. It dried out within a few days. But then last week I noticed that new growth, reddish in color, was emerging around the location of the torn older buds.

The pear trees arrived dessicated (so did the cherries) and the entire trunk of the pears swelled to look very healthy as of a week ago, but no bud growth.

I didn't get any persimmons or figs or hazelnuts, so I don't know how they show that they're about to break dormancy. It's definitely been different by tree type that I got.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2009 at 11:40PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


They may break dormancy and grow just fine. It is hard to say. I don't have anything against this firm, but after years of reading plenty of comments from people who've bought their products and who have had trouble with their plants not breaking dormancy, I think it is fair to mention that they have that reputation, especially when your question was about trees from that firm breaking dormancy.

Game Bird,

I don't consider it "hate" to mention that a particular company has a spotty reputation. I have nothing against this firm, its owner or its employees, but their reputation speaks for itself. It is hard to earn an "F" rating from the BBB, so that alone tells you something.

When a highly respected and very experienced fruit tree expert like Don Y. on the Fruit and Orchards Forum describes a company as a "shady" operation or a "shady" outfit, that should serve as a warning to those of us with less fruit tree experience. I appreciate when people provide feedback on companies they've done business with--whether that experience is positive or negative--and it has helped me learn which companies to avoid.

Many very good companies get an occasional bad review from an unhappy customer and that is to be expected. I take those with a grain of salt. What I look for is a trend or a pattern of too many bad reviews over a long period of time. Sometimes you see a good company go through a bad period and their reviews reflect that, and then they improve again and their reviews reflect that. I just think it is wise to pay attention to other people's experiences. It is getting hard to know when you are reading a legitimate review from a real customer though, because a lot of firms have their own employees make up usernames and post phony reviews.

Nothing would make me happier than for you and anyone else who's purchased from this firm to have 100% success with their plants. However, based on feedback about this company, that is not terribly likely.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 8:22AM
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I have two fig trees ... one came potted, one was bare root. Both are completely leafed out at this point. PistolP is in the same zone as Tulsa ... so I would expect them to have broken dormancy by now ... especially since Willis in southern Georgia and they're zone 8. That's not saying they still won't leaf out ... but I'd be skeptical at this point.

One of my bare root trees (mulberry) came in with blackened buds at the very top of the tree. While the tree has leafed out and is doing well, the blackened buds have done nothing and there's no sign of any new growth/bud development at the apex. Your trees may or may not develop new growth where the blackened buds are, depending on variety.

I definitely would not water your trees on a daily basis ... the exception to that being if you have very sandy soil that drains/dries quickly. A good watering twice a week is what I normally follow during normal weather ... during the hot summer weather I water more frequently. I also don't fertilize with either granular or liquid fertilizers the first year although I've planted new trees both with and without compost and haven't seen any significant differences as far as growth quality.

Willis ... I'm with Dawn on this one ... I don't hate them ... I've never done business with them so hating them would be a bit silly. But based on the feedback they're not the most reputable ... and while the BBB isn't THE GOSPEL for any business, as mentioned, getting an F rating is noteworthy.


    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 8:57AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

My new fig tree was dormant when I bought it. It began leafing out somewhere between 8 to 10 days after I planted it in March.

Most bare-root trees are dug up in the fall after they have gone dormant and then are held in cold storage just barely above freezing until they are shipped. Once they are removed from cold storage and are shipped, many begin to break dormancy almost immediately since it was only the artificially cold temperatures that were keeping them dormant. That is one reason you seldom see bare-root trees in nurseries--because they'll start breaking dormancy while at the nursery, and they do best if you get them into the ground before they break dormancy. Sometimes trees break dormancy so quickly after being removed from cold storage, that they'll break dormancy during shipping.

If your trees are still dormant when they arrive and you cannot plant them immediately, you can hold them at temperatures in the 34-38 degree range and they'll stay dormant. You can't do much to speed up the breaking of dormancy--once they are out of cold storage they will do it at the rate that is natural for them. Sometimes they can be very slow to break dormancy, especially if their roots got excessively dry while they were dormant.

Down here in southern Oklahoma where an occasional warm day in the 80s and 90s occurs in Feb. and Mar. of most years, you only see a few bare-root trees in stores, and you tend to see them arrive in January and be gone by earliest Feb. Up there in zone 6, you might see bare-root trees in stores a little later in the year, but probably not much later at reputable firms, because dormancy breaks too quickly once they are out of cold storage.

A few trees won't break dormancy easily on their own after they come out of cold storage, and you have to "sweat" them to induce budbreak. However, if you have trees that are prone to that, the nursery usually sweats the tree itself before shipping the trees to you, or they send explicit instructions telling you that you need to sweat the trees and telling you how to do it. That is why sometimes your spring tree order arrives in two shipment: the first shipment is the trees that break dormancy easily--generally just as a reaction to being pulled out of cold storage, and the second shipment is often those trees that the nurseries had to sweat for several days to break dormancy.

In the fall, you can have the opposite problem which holds up shipments. In that case, the nursery cannot dig up the trees and send them to you bare root until they go dormant and that is dependent on highly variable weather. This can frustrate gardeners in a colder zone who want to plant "now" but who have ordered from a nursery in a warmer zone where the temperatures have kept dormancy from occuring.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 9:58AM
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So what's it take to sweat a tree?

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 12:35PM
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I'm in zone 6 Oklahoma, right on the line between 6a and 6b (Dewey, America). I bought some bare root shrubs from and they shipped them in January and said to plant them immediately and keep them watered, which I did. Well, I admit to forgetting to water a couple of them, but it worked out ok because we had adequate water fall most of the time. There were four different kinds of bushes: Arrowwood Viburnum, Chokecherry, American Cranberry, and False Indigo. Seven of the eight bushes have leafed out very well and I think that one bush is dead, even though there is still some green under the bark. I'll leave it alone for awhile longer, though.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 2:06PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

It is pretty easy. You only use is for certain types of trees that tend to get very hard, unyielding buds while in cold storage. Some of the varieties you use it for are oaks, redbuds, hackberries, weeping willows, birch, hawthorne, some types of dogwoods, barberries, and ornamental pears. When these trees are held in cold storage they sort of get "stuck" in dormancy and don't want to wake up. Often, if you plant these types of bare-root trees without sweating them, they stay in dormancy for months and, if they don't break dormancy at the right time after spring planting, they can die before the following spring rolls around. What you want to do by "sweating" them is to create a super-humid, moist environment that gives the buds extra "encouragement" to swell and break.

You can sweat them in several ways.

For example, if the trees came in a large cardboard box, you can take them out of it, line it with heavy plastic, and then put the trees back into it. If they have any packing material around their roots, remove any plastic and wet down that packing material throughoughly. Then use duct tape to seal up the large sheet of plastic and make it as air-tight as possible. Store the whole thing in moderate temperatures between 45 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit out of direct sun. Within a few hours, you should see condensation inside the plastic and that is what you want. It can take 1 to 2 weeks of sweating for the buds to swell and break. If your condensation gradually disappears, you may have to briefly open the plastic and wet down the packing material around the roots and then reseal it. Check the buds for signs of swelling every couple of days.

Or, if you have a polyhouse or tightly constructed hoophouse or high tunnel that holds in the humidity well, you can wet down the roots and sweat them in that structure following the same principle of shielding them from direct sunlight and maintaining the right temperatures and high humidity.

Or, you can lay the plants down on a garage or barn floor, remove any plastic from the trees root area and wet down the packing material around the roots, and cover up the whole thing with a sheet of heavy duty plastic or a tarp. It is a little harder to maintain humidity under the tarp though unless you lay it underneath the plants on the floor and sort of wrap it around the plants and seal it shut with duct tape..

Once you have swelling buds, the sweating has achieved its goal of breaking dormancy. The key to success with sweating is what you do after the sweating because the plants need to go into the ground when the weather is warm and humid--very similar conditions to their sweating period only the humidity is natural and not artificially mainatained under plastic. If you plant the trees and a late cold snap occurs, you can loose the dormancy-breaking effect unleashed by the sweating. So, you don't want to sweat trees until the weather is conducive to planting. And, as soon as the buds swell and you remove the plants from their sweating "area", you want to plant them ASAP.

That's all you have to do to "sweat" a dormant tree.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2009 at 2:08PM
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