When is the best time to plant?
The "Short and Sweet" from Grandpa:
• Containerized trees--- Almost anytime! But best during months with an "r" in them, such as September, October, November, and February, March and April.
• Bareroot trees--- February, March, April and sometimes May are the best months.
• Fall planting of bareroot trees has "risk", even if you can get a bareroot tree.
Grandpa's "long winded" answer:
While, Grandpa could take any fruit tree, anytime and make it grow any where, even he had the best luck planting at the "right time". Containerized trees can be planted almost anytime of the year because you are hardly disturbing the root system when you plant. However, to get the best results, you want to avoid transplanting a containerized tree in times of higher temperatures and drier breezes like May, June, July and August, when moisture stress will be the greatest. But, anytime during the spring (as long as you can dig a hole without it filling up with water) and anytime during the fall (up until the ground starts freezing) are good times.
• In the spring, a containerized tree usually doesn't have a great amount of new growth on it yet to create a water stress on the newly transplanted tree, which allows for its growth to continue unchecked as long as it is well watered and taken care of.
• In the fall, a containerized tree is starting the process of going dormant for the winter. With cooler temperatures and usually better rainfall and soil conditions, there is less water stress, so even a containerized tree that has a lot of new growth and leaves still hanging will hardy know that it has been transplanted into the ground. Bareroot trees usually are only available during the spring.
This is really the most limiting factor as to whether you can plant bareroot in the spring or fall. See the article "Plan Ahead!" to learn the real reason. It is almost impossible for BYFGer's to get bareroot trees in the fall from a nursery, unless you are right next door and they are willing to sell you a few.
• In the spring, the bareroot tree should be fairly dormant when it arrives and should be planted as soon as possible. This allows the roots to start growing in the cool soil, before the tops start responding to the warming spring temperatures and start their new flush of growth, which puts water and fertilizer demands on the small, limited and developing root system.
• In the fall, a bareroot tree will actually grow a lot of roots and have an opportunity to get well established. A fall planted tree will really take off in the spring! But there are some potential dangers! Usually in the fall, bareroot nursery trees are not as well hardened off and ready for winter weather than a comparable tree that has been grown in the orchard for at least the summer season.
In order to grow a large nursery tree, most nurseries "push" the trees harder with optimal levels of fertilizer and irrigation, so the trees are "softer". o Most fruit tree nurseries dig nursery stock in the fall. That way they have all winter to grade and store it in protected cold storage. The young trees are not exposed outside to treacherous winter weather.
If there is a particularly hard winter, with sub-zero temperatures or fast, extreme cold snaps in the late fall or early winter, a newly planted nursery tree can get cold damaged or flat out frozen and killed. You must be able to accept the potential "risks" of planting a bareroot tree in the fall.