Planting Fruit Trees in Winter
It's cold. The days are overcast. Night falls earlier. Sometimes the winter seems like a bleak time. There are, of course, things that make the winter worthwhile: hot chocolate, warm fires, and planting fruit trees. While fruit trees do not look particularly attractive in the winter time, this is actually the best time to plant them as long as the ground is not frozen. Planting in the winter increases the survival rate of your fruit trees and encourages better establishment and growth. During the winter, fruit trees are dormant and as such they experience less shock during transplanting. Transplant shock is common in planting, but it can kill your plant, so reducing root stress and shock is very important. If your fruit tree is planted in the winter, its roots will grow throughout that time and will lead to greater growth during the tree's first season and help the tree establish itself more easily in the spring when it is no longer dormant.
When selecting a planting site for your fruit trees, sun and soil are the most important considerations. Fruit trees need sun – about 6 hours a day – in order to remain healthy and produce fruit. Fruit trees also need well-drained soil. The soil should not be frozen and it should not be waterlogged. While those two needs are easy to identify, it may be more difficult to know if your soil has good drainage. You can determine this by testing how quickly water drains in your desired planting location. Dig a hole 12 inches by 12 inches and fill it with water. After the water has drained from the hole, fill it again and measure the depth of the water. Wait 30 minutes and then measure the depth of the water again to see how much water has drained. A good drainage rate is 1-2 inches an hour or ½ to 1 inches every half hour. Such drainage rates are important so that roots do not remain saturated with water and therefore drown because they do not receive enough oxygen.
After you have found a sunny and well-drained plating site, dig your hole as deep as the root system and twice as wide as the root spread. Place your fruit tree in the hole. Do not fertilize at the time of planting. Fill the hole with native soil. Make sure to clear about a 3 foot radius around your tree removing all grass and weeds. These need to be removed so they do not compete with your tree for nutrients. Water your tree and mulch. It is best to water slowly and deeply every couple of days. Doing so ensures that your roots remain moist without becoming saturated.
Tree health and survival depends on all these factors. Planting in the winter is one such factor and a way to make your life easier and your tree happier. So enjoy some hot chocolate by a warm fire and then get out there and start planting!