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Here’s when to plant your new tree to make sure it thrives in its new home

At the cusp of wintertime, ‘tis the season to be jolly, but is it the season to plant new trees? The answer depends. If you live in an area where the temperatures don’t drop rapidly below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, you actually have a pretty decent chance. The dormant season can, indeed, be the ideal time to start growing trees. If you’re wondering why this is and how to plant your trees, read ahead.

Person planting a tree

Why is the dormant season the best time to plant a tree?

Basically, the dormant season falls during wintertime. After the leaves fall and before buds bloom, plants go to sleep and stop pushing out new growth for a few months. Most plants don’t appreciate being moved around too much this time of year, as their root systems can get jostled around and they can suffer from shock. However, the dormant season can be the best time to plant trees. During this period, trees are asleep and their metabolism slows down. The cool temperatures and rain around late fall can make it ideal for trees to settle down their roots while helping them harden off. Plus, trees don’t have to compete with weeds and other plants when the temperatures drop. As nature takes its course in the winter, that also means less maintenance on your end.

But of course, no plant, not even a tree, really wants to deal with a heavy freeze. Just make sure that you plant your tree before the ground becomes frozen solid — it’ll be easier on you when you’re digging a hole and your sapling when it’s growing roots. That said, you can still situate trees even with some snow outside. You just don’t want the temperature to dip below 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Roughly speaking, climate zones 6 and above will have better luck settling down trees in early winter. Ideally, you want to give your tree a good six weeks to set its roots before there’s any frozen soil. If it’s too cold, or you anticipate it becoming too cold soon, it’s best to put off planting trees until late winter or early spring.

Planting a tree

How do you plant a tree during the dormant season?

When planting a tree in your space during the growing season, it’s a good idea to check if your tree can withstand your current conditions. Check if you have an area in your yard where your tree can get sufficient shade, sunlight, and moisture. Deciduous trees (trees that lose their leaves) need 50 degrees Fahrenheit minimum, while evergreens need a warmer 60 degrees to maintain their needles.

Before setting down your sapling, there are a few things that you should read up on, namely its soil pH and fertilizing requirements. Mix in manure, compost, or a balanced fertilizer as needed — usually, the first two should be just fine, as over-fertilizing can hurt your plant’s roots during dormancy. When situating your tree, make sure that the trunk flare is on top of the soil and not placed too deeply into it.

Hands covering the base of a sapling with mulch

How do you maintain a tree during the dormant season?

After you plant your tree down for the dormant season, it’s a one-and-done deal. You won’t need to touch it too much during the winter since it’s essentially in a state of hibernation. That said, it’s a good idea to apply mulch at the base of your tree to keep it warm against the cold and to help it retain moisture. Seasonal rainfall should provide sufficient watering — but if your region has a bit of a dry spell, it might be helpful to give your plant a good drink when the soil feels dry. Remember, moist soil will hold onto heat better than dry soil! Avoid pruning your trees this time of year since that can add undue stress to them.

Tree guard

Relevant troubleshooting tips

When you plant a tree in the winter, there are a few issues you might run into. Here’s what they are and how you can address them.

  • Wind: With windy conditions, help support your trees with stakes.
  • Dryness: Evergreens impacted by dry winds benefit from a wilt preventative spray, as the cold can be very drying and cause the needles to drop. Don’t worry too much about snow — it can actually insulate branches from subzero temperatures.
  • Frost heaving: Frost that freezes and expands can take a toll on roots and heave your tree out of the ground. To keep your tree secure, add a four- to a six-inch layer of mulch.

With the right late fall to early winter conditions, you can pick out a tree and plant it in your yard sooner than you think. Generally speaking, you’re in luck if you don’t have to work with frozen ground. With minimal maintenance and a good layer of mulch, you can sit back, relax, and wait for beautiful growing season foliage and blooms!

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