Can You Plant Trees in the Winter?

With spring occupied with replanting gardens, garden fatigue setting in during autumn, and your yard desperately needing some tree cover, you may wonder if you could get away with planting in winter. Is winter planting crazy enough to work? Or is it just plum crazy?

You can plant bare-rooted trees in the winter, so long as the winter is mild. Deciduous trees can be planted while soil temperatures remain above 50F (10C), while evergreens and cold-sensitive ornamentals can be planted at 60F (15C). Regardless of when you plant, transplanted trees must be protected during their first three winters.

How cold is too cold to plant trees?

It’s too cold to plant trees when the soil temperature is consistently below 50F (10C) for deciduous trees (except for cold-sensitive ornamentals) and 60F (15C) for evergreens. Soil temperature is usually warmer than the air, as the soil takes longer to cool, so use a soil thermometer to check. Tree roots actually grow best when soil is cooler, although deciduous trees need at least six weeks to establish their roots before a big freeze.

Avoid planting evergreens close to a freeze. Because evergreen trees keep their needles throughout the winter, they need more water while getting established as they lose water through their needles (transpiration). (Deciduous trees do the same through their leaves, although because they lose their leaves in the autumn, this isn’t a problem in the winter.)

Does Location Matter?

Your location affects the best time to plant trees. Transplanted trees need frequent watering while their roots are being established (the time depends on the diameter of the tree trunk). That means in locations like the Northwest with dry summers but a shorter/milder winter, the best time is fall. In the Midwest, where summers are wetter while fall is short and winters severe, the best time is in the spring.

In the south, where winter is more of a concept than a reality, you can transplant throughout the autumn and winter, and give your trees months to settle in before hitting the summer’s heat.

That being said, the gardener’s habits, tree species, and the tree’s initial health play an even bigger role. Autumn might be considered best for your location, but if it’s dry and you’re ready for a break from your garden, then you won’t water enough and the transplant will suffer. Most gardeners are raring to garden come spring, making spring the best time to transplant.

Nurseries have the biggest selection of healthy trees in the spring. In the autumn, you can find great discounts on healthy and not-so-healthy trees that have spent all summer suffering through the heat. If you’re going to buy your tree in the autumn, avoid big box stores.

What Trees Can You Plant in The Winter?

You can plant deciduous trees in mild winters, unless they’re cold-sensitive ornamentals, and it’s best to wait until spring to plant evergreens.

Can You Plant Evergreens in the Winter?

No, you cannot plant evergreens in the winter, and it’s best to avoid planting them in the fall as well, unless you have a mild and wet winter. As evergreens lose water through their needles all year round, they need more water when establishing their roots. You can plant them in winter if the soil temperature is warmer than 60F (15C) and you can water them each week.

Can you plant fruit trees in the winter?

Yes, you can plant fruit trees in the winter, so long as soil temperatures remain above 50F (10C). Planting in cooler temperatures before fruit trees need to grow leaves and fruit can ultimately help their transition, as the tree can focus solely on growing roots.

Can you plant palm trees in the winter?

You can’t plant palm trees in the winter if the soil temperatures go below 60F (15C). Palm trees can survive a few weeks of freezing temperatures and snow, but they need time to acclimate and establish their roots beforehand. Planting in the spring will reap better results.

Can you plant cedar trees in the winter?

Avoid planting cedar trees in the winter unless soil temperatures remain above 60F (15C). As cedar keep their needles throughout the winter, they continue to perspire (lose water) through their needles. If saplings don’t have easy access to water (because the ground is often frozen), then they’ll struggle. Wait until spring for better results.

Can you plant maple trees in the winter?

You can plant maple tree saplings in the winter if soil temperatures remain above 50F (10C), except for cold-sensitive ornamentals like Japanese maples. So long as they get plenty of water, deciduous tree roots grow best when ground temperatures are cool and they don’t need to allocate resources to growing or maintaining leaves. Plant at least six weeks ahead of an expected freeze.

Can you plant apple trees in the winter?

You can plant apple trees in the winter so long as soil temperatures remain above 50F (10C) with access to water. Apple trees are cold hardy, so you can plant your trees in late winter or early spring. However, this depends on whether you can find quality saplings available in winter. You may be better off waiting until spring when new, healthy stock arrives.

Winter Tree Planting FAQs

Will Frost Kill Newly Planted Trees?

Newly planted trees should be able to survive one frost if they’re hardy to your area, although a late spring frost can damage stems, blossoms, and fresh shoots. Sudden freezing temperatures, large temperature drops, and dry winters are much more likely to kill saplings, as their roots are less developed, their branches are smaller, and they need a lot more water. To survive the winter, they need to have their trunks wrapped (or the whole tree wrapped) and need to be watered deeply 24-48 hours before an expected freeze.

Frost cracks can form on southern-facing bark as the sun heats the bark during the day only to drop at night. Once a frost crack forms, the more likely it is that it will be an annual occurrence.

Should you protect trees in the winter?

While older, established trees can survive the winter on their own, you should protect saplings, evergreens, and cold-sensitive trees like Japanese maples. Practices like deeply watering 24-48 hours before an expected freeze, applying mulch around the base, and wrapping trunks or the entire tree, can keep these more sensitive trees healthy.

Pruning weak branches and wrapping small trees together can help prevent snow and ice damage on all trees.

How to protect tree seedlings in winter?

Trees may not show signs of damage until the growing season or even the next year, so prevention is key. To protect your saplings:

  1. Deeply water transplanted saplings 24-48 hours before an expected freeze. Trees need water even in the middle of the winter. If soil temperatures remain above freezing during a mild winter, then keep watering the sapling through the winter.
  2. Apply 4 inches of mulch around the base. Cover the soil in a 2 feet radius around the trunk, but keep the mulch away from the trunk (no mulch volcanoes, please). Mulch will help protect the tree roots and keep moisture.
  3. Wrap new trees and evergreens. When trees have thinner bark, like transplants, saplings, and some tree varieties, the sun can heat the bark in a short time and when temperatures dip, the bark cracks. Sunscold can also happen to evergreen leaves, so evergreens should be entirely wrapped in burlap (if they’re small enough).

Final Thoughts

If your winters are mild with soil temperatures staying above 50F (10C), then winter planting is an option for you. The best time of year to plant new trees is when you as the gardener will best nurture that tree and when you can get your hands on quality saplings.

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