We’ve said it before: fruit trees and berry bushes add edible and aesthetic value to your garden. As perennials, they require little maintenance in exchange for high-value crops – fresh fruits and berries!
Although you can plant fruits and berries in your garden at any point during the growing season, the best times to plant are fall and spring. There are some benefits to each, and the best timing depends on your hardiness zone.
As a rule, fall planting is best for warmer climates, early spring planting for colder climates. Here in Western North Carolina, we are right on the edge. Fall planting can be successful and give your trees a major advantage; however, the right timing is critical.
For example, in zone 7A (Asheville), fall planting is usually safe, but you’ll want to watch the weather closely: a sudden drop in temperatures to below freezing could harm a vulnerable newly planted tree.
If planting bareroot trees, you need to wait until the tree saplings are dormant. Depending on the nursery where you order them from, this might be in mid- to late November. On the other hand, you don’t want to wait so long the ground freezes over. Freezing temperatures can damage roots. That leaves a time window that may be too small.
Container-grown trees are more flexible. They can be transplanted earlier in the fall, and ideally will have a couple of months to get established before the real cold hits.
Benefits of Fall Planting
Gives the roots time to settle in and get accustomed to the soil. This gives the plant a head start for rapid growth in the spring.
The cooler temperatures are less stressful for plants
Less watering is required during the establishment period
Planting in the spring works, too. But that’s a time when so much is happening for the plant. As it breaks dormancy, it needs to put energy into developing both its root system and budding and new growth. If your trees and bushes have had a chance to settle and get rooted, literally, they are ready for the warm breezes and will likely yield earlier and more bountiful harvests.
Other tips for fall planting success:
Choose a variety of fruit tree that is right for your USDA hardiness zone. Cold-hardy fruit trees include cold-hardy apples and peaches, pawpaws, and American persimmons.
At planting time, cut the plant back by about one-third. This will help it to focus its energies on establishing its root system.
Mulch heavily to provide extra winter protection. Mulch, straw, or wood chips are all good choices for fruit trees. Acid-loving berries like blueberries will love conifer branches as mulch – a great way to recycle your Christmas tree and wreaths!
The good things in life are worth waiting for. Planting fruit trees is a labor of love that's not about instant gratification, but about building a basis for long-term bounty. You may not feel like it when getting that bare, small tree sapling into the ground on a cold and bleak day, but it is the starting point for years and years of deliciousness -- future pies, jams, and bowlfuls of fresh fruit.