My wife saw a special on fruit trees at our local nursery and she asked me if we should buy some and plant them. It was the middle of Summer and I though, maybe I should see when is the best time to plant a fruit tree.
The best time to plant a fruit tree is when the tree is dormant. Therefore, there are two times optimal times to plant fruit trees. One is in Autumn when the weather is more mild and there is a longer time for the fruit tree to get established before spring and summer growth. The second is just before the weather is about to warm up again in late winter or early spring. Generally, you want to make sure that the weather forecast predicts calm, mild weather for the following week after you plant your fruit trees. This guarantees the tree will have the best possible start and have time to put their roots down before the next growing season.
Depending on whether you live a temperate, sub-tropical or tropical climate, planting fruit trees will differ.
If you live in the northern hemisphere, then Autumn is going to start in September, so if you are going to plant in Autumn the best time to plant a fruit tree will then be between September and November. If you plant to plant in late Winter to early Spring, then January to March are the ideal time.
If you live in the southern hemisphere, then Autumn starts in March, so the best time to plant a fruit tree is between March and August. We live in the southern hemisphere so the January sales at the local nurseries are to off-load all of the last year’s stock which didn’t sell.
Why plant in Autumn/Winter?
As mentioned earlier, we want to plant a fruit tree when it is dormant so growth has slowed as much as possible.
Planting a tree in Autumn means the weather will be more mild, which puts less stress on the fruit tree. Growth has slowed down, meaning it needs less nutrients and less sun and water.
If you planted the fruit tree early enough in Autumn, then it will have at least a few months to settle into its new home and start to establish roots in the soil. When Spring time rolls around, it will be ready to start producing new leaves, buds and branches.
If you decide to plant closer to the beginning of Spring, then the fruit tree will have good growth for the Spring period and probably need a bit of attention in Summer (watering) so it doesn’t dry out. By the time Winter rolls around, it will be well established and should easily over-winter that year.
Water is probably the only essential element which plants need to grow. Without water there is no life. That is why planting fruit trees in Autumn or Winter is a good idea.
In temperate climates, Autumn and Winter usually have more rainfall than in Summer, which is one of the reasons fruit trees will fail. Spring will also usually bring more rainfall than in Summer.
Even in areas where there isn’t much rainfall in Autumn and Winter, there will be a lower overall temperature, which means you will have to water fruit trees less often due to evaporation. The soil will stay wetter for longer and wont dry out.
This is much less stressful on newly planted fruit trees and will help with root development.
I don’t live in an area which has annual snow cover, but after doing research around the topic it is essential to plant fruit trees before the annual snow and before the ground freezes.
Or after the snow has started to melt in early Spring and the ground is warming up again, but before the fruit tree starts to bud.
This means you will have an even shorter time period to get those plants in the ground.
Bare-root fruit trees
Bare-root fruit trees are dug out when they are dormant, with no leaves, flowers or fruit, during late Autumn or (very) early Spring. They are shipped to you without any soil covering their roots (hence “bare-root”) as this makes it conveient to put into a box or container.
The real issue is they can only be kept like this for a short amount of time before they start to lose conditioning and die. They must be kept in a cool dark place until such a time as they are planted out, otherwise they will degrade even faster. If they are exposed to heat or sunlight, they will come out of dormancy, get stressed out and soon die without soil protecting them.
On the plus side, bare-root fruit trees will grow much better than potted fruit trees as they will adapt to their new conditions quicker. Because they are a younger tree, they are easier to prune and establish the shape you desire.
Also, bare-root trees are more tolerant of their planting conditions and can be planted out when it is sunny, raining or windy (they will just have to be staked).
Potted fruit trees
If you are going to plant a fruit tree in a pot then the above best time for planting them still holds true. Autumn or late winter/early spring.
There is a difference between planting a fruit tree in a pot verse a fruit tree planting outside.
If you plant a fruit tree in a pot, then you have the ability to move it (if it is not too heavy) or place it in a sheltered spot in full sun.
Ideally it would be close to your house, so watering it and caring for it everyday isn’t such a hassle. If the tree is out in your garden, you may forget about it or it might take more time to tend it everyday.
This means, while it is ideal to plant it at the same times as above, you can get away with planting a potted fruit tree any time of the year. It just means you will have to take care of it a lot more intensively.
You also have to be careful not to hurt it’s roots when transplanting it and it might take a whole season to get new growth if you plant it right at the peak of growth (as it will likely die off a bit when you plant it).
I have successfully planted fruit trees in pots throughout the year, so I know it is possible.
While it is best to plant a fruit tree when it is dormant at the end of Winter or the beginning of Spring, you can get away with planting them at other times depending on your climate. Some fruit trees will be easier than other, such as potted fruit trees rather than bare-root, so pay attention to that as well.
If in doubt, ask the nursery which you are buying the fruit tree from as they will certainly let you know what to do.