Fall and winter months are some of the best times of the year to plant a tree. However, the answer to "can you plant trees in winter?" is not a clear yes or no. It will depend on a variety of factors including your local climate, what type of tree/shrub you are planting, and how much time before severe weather is forecasted. 

Ideally, trees and shrubs need about 6 weeks to establish roots before a heavy freeze, but it’s actually OK to plant them anytime the ground is workable, and many bare-root trees and shrubs are planted in very early spring while they’re still dormant.

Look At Trees in Your Area

A good rule of thumb is that if the trees in your area still have leaves, you can plant new trees. Mid-August to mid-October is an ideal time of year to plant new trees, though, that time frame can be stretched into November and December. To be 100% sure, measure soil temperature early in the morning for a few, consecutive days. If your soil is consistently 50° F or higher, you’re good to plant.

The 50° F mark works best for deciduous trees. Those are the trees that shed leaves before for winter. Because of this, they focus only on growing and providing water to their roots in winter. So, they don’t need as much energy.

On the other hand, evergreen trees–like pine and spruce–hold onto their needles year-round. They need all the nutrients they can get before the ground freezes. That’s why you want to avoid planting evergreen trees if the soil temperature is lower than 60° F. Your tree wouldn’t have enough time to save the energy needed to survive the winter.

For most states and zones (including 5, 6, and 7) fall really is a great time to add a tree to your yard. Zones 8, 9, and 10 have more time to get plants in the ground and can plant into December. Following is a list of states that have exceptions to fall planting:  

  • Alabama: Fall is okay, but winter (November through March) is even better.
  • Florida: Planting in the rainy season from May to October is smart. But you can probably plant any time of year. Lucky you!
  • Georgia: Late fall or even winter will work. November and December are perfect.
  • Louisiana: Expand your home’s forest in November or December.
  • Tennessee: Autumn (and early winter) are best.

Once the first snow falls and/or your ground is frozen, it is best to wait til late winter/early spring before planting trees in your yard. The young saplings are susceptible to their roots drying out in the cold and not being able to withstand the wind/ice/snow. 

Deciduous Tree vs. Evergreen

It is best to plant trees when they are dormant (because you aren’t as likely to disrupt their growth), so you need to consider if the tree is deciduous or evergreen. Deciduous trees do well if they are planted at the end of fall, when their leaves are falling and they are beginning to go dormant, or (better yet) the beginning of spring, before they have begun to bud. Evergreen trees, on the other hand, aren’t as finicky when it comes to their growth. You have a little more leeway, but you should still avoid planting them when it’s hot outside or very cold.

Weather Forecast

Plan to plant as best as you can. Do you think a young sapling will live if you plant it the week before a blizzard? Of course not! That’s about as likely as a baby surviving if you set its cradle outside on a cold winter’s night. If you’re anticipating any extreme weather like a snowstorm or ice, wait until the forecast is more mild.

Special Handling for Winter Planting

  1. Keep plants watered! If you do nothing else... make sure to keep the newly planted trees watered. The worst part of cold damage is caused by desiccation, or drying out. Keep new shrubs watered every week or two until the ground freezes, and especially right before a heavy freeze.
  2. Mulching is important when planting trees and shrubs in the cooler times of year. Mulch will help to maintain constant soil temperatures. Plants are able to grow roots when the soil temperature stays above 45 degrees. By applying a good layer of mulch you will not only extend the time in which the soil maintains that temperature it will also keep soil moisture at a constant level.
  3. Avoid stimulating growth: Don’t fertilize or overly amend the soil. You can add a little compost and bone meal (to stimulate root growth), but hold off on fertilizer until spring.
  4. For trees planted in the winter if you live in a windy area you should consider staking the trees to prevent undue stress on the new roots.
  5. Evergreen plants can be harmed by the drying winter winds and some gardeners insist on spraying plants with a wilt-preventive chemical. If you live in a windy area this is a good safety measure to protect your investment. 
  6. Don’t disturb the plant: Avoid pruning, and be very gentle with the roots while planting. The shrub won’t have time to recover from damage, and it’s going to be stressed enough as it is. The exception would be if the tree is damaged in shipment, trim the broken branches. 

As always, if you have any questions, please feel free to email us so that we may further assist you. 

Sources: Davey, Todays HomeownerGarden Goods Direct, Nixa Lawn Care, Davey


Shammy Petersons said:

I found it interesting when you said that you could still plant trees when the trees in your area still have leaves. With this in mind, I would assume that the best way to have trees transplanted is by consulting a professional. I could imagine how their expertise could provide the best advice, and I would also imagine the need or them to use loader-mounted tree spades that would work for transplanting trees. https://horttechsystems.com/tree-spades-and-digging-1

Elizabeth said:

Hi! I live in Montreal. During spring (when the seeds started to fall), i collected a couple maple tree seeds and planted them in pots. Now i have 15 baby trees that are around 15-20cm tall. The temperature can drop to -22°F at times and I’m afraid they won’t make it through winter if i plant them outside. What do you suggest i do with them during winter? Thank you!

Richmond Hedge said:

Adding to this information, here in our city, Richmond tree removal is most effectively done during winter because trees can no longer grow in this type of season.

Debra Rodriguez said:

Arbor day just sent me 10 babies to plant. We have frost on the ground and trees every morning already, u mean it’s already Dec 8th. Should I plant them or pot them together and keep in my barn till spring. Thank you in advance.

kathy said:

should I plant bare root blue spruce’ or burlap wrapped blue spruce, in Minnesota in November

Brad said:

You recently sent a potted apple tree to me in Ohio. The ground is below the 50 degree mark mentioned above. How should the tree be cared for until the ground warms up? Or should the tree be planted now?

Aamir said:

Please recomend some trees to be plantef in the month of december

Terry Salach said:

I have 3 baby tulip trees that were just given to me. I live in Indiana and am Not sure if it is to late to plant them in my yard. If it is can I pot them and store in Heated garage till spring? Thank you

Dar said:

Hello I live in Western New York between Buffalo and Rochester. Can we plant Blue Spruce Trees now this week ? It’s Oct 15th today. Where we got the trees from, we learned they just dugout the trees they are about 4-6 years old 2ft to my best knowledge. It was suggested to plant the trees with pots in the ground. Then in the spring dig them up to take out of pots then plant them directly into the ground ? Or we can just go head plant them directly in the ground. We haven’t had first frost yet. That could be anytime soon. what’s best thing to do ? We got 16 trees not realizing it may not be a good time to plant it. Thank you

Plant Me Green said:

Hello John! Yes, to measure the temperature of the soil, use an instant-read thermometer made for cooking. Push the thermometer’s probe as deep into the soil as possible to get an accurate reading of the soil temperature. Mid-March would be better to plant if you are in Indiana.

John said:

Bought a magnolia tree for my wife for Chistmas. We live in Indiana. Can I plant it now. I read to measure the growth temp. Do you do that with a food thermometer?

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