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When Is The Right Time To Plant Trees?

Searching for the right time to plant trees? Often gardeners would want to plant trees during spring as they like spring gardening. Whereas, most of the gardeners prefer planting during the sad season of fall as it has certain benefits in terms of the health and growth of trees. Here is what experts have to say about it.

When should trees be planted?

Experts say there is no objective, one word (or one line) answer to this question. In fact, this varies from gardener to gardener and project to project. Gardeners all around the world plant trees at all times around the year, except for dead winters. Often shrubs are planted on the hottest days of summers, and although they initially look dead, they soon revive back to life being a hardy variety. You'd even find some adventurous gardeners planting trees down the road during October and November with snow covering the ground. These are definitely not the ideal times to plant trees, however, these instances prove how shrubs and trees may survive under poor planting conditions, too. Planting time is the most significant in colder regions where the ground is frozen for some time during the year. In warmer regions, the planting time is not that critical as long as you can manage to water your plants well.

Spring Planting

Spring is a fine time to plant trees. Nurseries have a wide collection of plants during Spring – so why do you think they have them all? Planting during Spring allows trees a chance to grow during summers and prepare for winters. We can only see what is above the ground. However, the most important part of trees rests beneath the ground; their roots. After being planted, trees need to grow new roots. Planting during Spring puts the tree under a dual responsibility i.e. to grow new roots as well as new leaves. Leaves and roots both require sugar reserves to grow. Growing leaves and roots at the same time can often get difficult for the tree to manage. As a result, both the roots and leaves suffer and do not show up healthy growth. In addition to sugars, trees also need a lot of water to grow well. With both the leaf and roots growth processes moving together during spring, root growth is often suffered. This makes it difficult for the plant to soak in enough water through its roots. These are some problems that lead to stunt growth of trees planted in spring, and they begin to lose their leaves soon after being planted.

Fall Planting

Experts are more in the favor of planting trees during the fall as that is the time when trees can grow healthy new roots without having to feed the leaves. With no leaves, a tree's water requirements are also lesser than usual. Fall might feel cold to us, but the temperature during fall is optimal for root growth as roots grow best under cool soil. Fall planting allows trees to grow roots once during the fall and new roots during the spring. This way trees manage to form a layer of roots before they have to soak in water and nutrients for the leaves and flowers during Spring. And where'd you get the plants? Nurseries have fewer plants available during fall, but a good nursery would have most of the commonly grown plants available. Also, considering the reduced number of sales during fall, you are likely to enjoy a significant discount on the plant you choose. However, do not be too attracted to discounts that you overlook the health of the plant. Choosing a plant that has been lying there in the nursery since summers suffering the scorching summer heat won't be a good idea. Such plants would not make a healthy addition to your landscape, and it's better not to buy them.

Winter Problems

Fall planting helps trees to grow new roots without having to grow leaves, but can those newly planted trees survive winters? Most of the potential winter damage that a plant may have to suffer is dependent on how the plant was cared for before being planted. Did you buy an old plant that sat dull and dry in a nursery for months and months before you picked it up? Is it now root bound with luscious roots grown in the pot? Did it undergo any significant damage while being dug up? Research sides with the fact that some trees planted during the fall would be more affected by winter damage. These trees include the Magnolia. Sweetgum, Tulip Tree, Hawthorn, Cherries, and others. While this list is not an exhaustive one, we do take away the lesson that the optimal time to plant trees varies from plant to plant, and each plant would be differently susceptible to winter damage.

Deciduous vs Evergreens

Deciduous trees are best planted during the fall season. These trees lose their leaves during fall, and soon after that, the watering requirements of these trees are significantly reduced. They continue to grow roots during fall, however, only a small amount of water is required for growing roots as compared to leaves. Evergreen trees, on the contrary, retain their leaves throughout fall till winters. Their metabolism is reduced, and they continue losing water all along winters. With the ground frozen during winters, the roots of evergreen trees suffer fetching water leading to an undermined growth. This is why planting evergreen trees during the season of fall is not a good idea, particularly if those are broad-leafed evergreens.

The Gardener Factor

The best time to plant any tree would vary from gardener to gardener. For planting during the fall, one has to make sure the tree gets enough water before the ground freezes. A gardener who can afford to mulch the tree and water it well during the fall season is better off with planting then. Also, newly planted trees demand much more water during the first six months and would otherwise need regular watering during the first year.

Which is the Best Planting Season?

Continuing reading till now, you'd still be wondering whether fall is the best season to plant or Spring. Even experts won't give you a 'one-word' answer to it that you've been longing to hear – that's because there is actually no objective answer to it. Digging more into the details of an optimal planting season, experts emphasize the importance of location for determining it. For example, experts native to the upper Midwest would tell you to wait until spring for planting. That's probably because of the super chilly weather Midwest faces during winters making it difficult to yield healthy growth after fall planting. On the other hand, experts from Washington are more in the favor of fall planting with due watering and mulching. This is particularly because of the dry summers therein. The point to note here is that trees would need water when they are in their recovery phase i.e. during the first six months of their lives. Regions having dry summers but shorter and warmer winters make way for fall planting. Whereas, in regions where summers are wetter and a short fall season is followed by long, cold winters, it gets difficult for a fall-planted tree to survive. Experts call 'Mulching' the key to success for fall-planted trees. Mulching the trees adequately enables them to lock in moisture and water for the dry winters to come. Adequately mulched fall planted trees are expected to survive much better than spring-planted trees. As a thumb rule, spring planting works best in regions where winters are longer and colder. Whereas, fall planting works well in regions that observe a shorter period of winters. In either case, the heart of the matter lies within the availability of adequate water, moisture, and the manner of the plantation. Also, in case you just thought to resort to summer planting – summer planting makes it extremely difficult for the plant to survive and is not recommended.

Bottom Line:

Up till here, we came across the pros and cons of planting in different seasons, and there is no one season to contain all the pros or all the cons. However, for home gardeners, experts are more inclined towards suggesting 'Spring Planting'. That is primarily because spring is the time when most people observe spring holidays and find more time to spend in the garden caring for their newly planted tree. And by the end, it's only the care that can help a tree survive under any given conditions.
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