Fall tree planting

Most tree planting projects occur in the spring, but there is a growing trend to conduct tree plantings during the fall. This is especially true when planting larger stock like sapling-sized trees that are balled and burlapped or containerized as opposed to smaller seedling-sized trees that are shipped as bare root stock.

Planting during the fall has some advantages over spring planting. First, the tree will have a longer period of root growth before the hot summer arrives since roots continue to grow as long as soil temperatures are greater than 40 degrees. Second, these newly planted trees also have time to develop their root system before the flush of new leaf growth occurs and the trees require additional water and energy reserves.

Third, most weeds are dormant in the fall so the newly planted trees will have less competition for water and nutrients than they would in the spring when everything greens up. Fourth, the young tree planted in the fall also has hardened off for winter so that it is more resistant to dry periods, cold snaps, or predation by deer, mice, or rabbits. Finally, many nurseries also offer planting stock at reduced prices and contractors have more time during this less busy period.

Despite the stated advantages, a major disadvantage of fall plantings is that winter, burn injuries or complete plant failure may occur if the root system does not grow enough to support the plant once the soil freezes. To avoid this, it is best to initiate fall plantings one month before you expect the soil to freeze.

Also, there are a number of trees that you should not plant during the fall because they have a high risk to fail or burn during the winter. Some trees that are at a higher risk of failing during prolonged periods where the soil is frozen include flowering dogwood, hornbeam, magnolia, and linden. There are also some trees that grow much better if they are planted during the spring instead of the fall. Some of these species are oaks, hickories, beech, walnuts, sycamore, and hemlock. If you are unsure if a particular variety should be planted in the fall you can consult with local nurseries.

Nature Note for 10/12/14