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Tree Care Tips for Fall Planting

Tree Care Tips for Fall Planting

By the Arbor Day Foundation
Photograph by Andy Arthur


There’s something festive about the changing of leaves and scent of cinnamon spice in the air. The cooler weather is perfect for fall planting because the trees are better able to retain moisture.

Despite the cold, as long as you’re able to stick a spade in the ground, it’s okay to plant your trees. They will stay dormant through the season and bud in the spring. In fact, the roots will have more time to establish themselves, allowing them to bloom more lavishly and acclimate to the warmer weather more easily. Plants with an established root system better withstand heat and wind the following summer.

Additionally, pests and diseases are less likely to afflict trees in the cooler weather. Fall is also great for pruning older trees since most of the branches will be leaf-free.

Here are a few helpful things to know when planting in the fall:

  • If you’re not able to plant immediately don’t worry, you can store your trees in a cool, dry place for up to five days. The garage or basement is perfect.
  • If you know you won’t be able to plant your trees within a week, then consider heeling in your trees. Better yet, be proactive and pre-dig your holes before the cooler weather sets in. Store the dirt you removed from the holes in a garage or tool shed to prevent it from hardening and becoming more difficult to work with when it comes time to plant.
  • When planting in the fall it’s important to use mulch around your trees to reduce the possibility of freezing and thawing that can lead to frost heaving. Mulch has multiple benefits, including preventing evaporation and water runoff, improving water penetration to the root zones and limiting weeds that may also compete for water. A two to three inch layer is most effective.
  • Avoid planting your trees in pots. If you are planting in a pot for the season and intend to transplant it in the spring, be sure to keep the pot indoors or in the garage.
  • One thing to note is that when you do transplant in the spring it will be important to slowly reintroduce the plants to outdoor conditions by leaving them outside in the pots for a few days before transplanting into the ground.
  • Watering trees in the fall is often overlooked, but still important. Your trees still need water even in the colder weather. Watering will vary by region, but as long as the trees and soil aren’t frozen, continue to water your trees. Winter droughts are just as serious as summer droughts.

Fall planting might sound alarming at first because of the winter weather the trees have to withstand, but they’ll be in a dormant state and shouldn’t be affected. In fact, the Arbor Day Foundation doesn’t start fall shipping until November just to ensure the trees are dormant when they go out. Fall is a wonderful time to plant because the weather is cool and the ground isn’t too wet. 

The Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit, member driven conservation and educational organization. Its mission is to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees.

All articles are copyrighted and remain the property of the author.

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