When should I plant a fruit tree?
Dormant season is the best time to put down new roots
Trees are a welcome addition to any backyard! And if you’re wanting to add a fruit tree to your landscape, there is no time like the present.
We’ve entered the dormant season, when trees lose their leaves and go to sleep. This is also the best time to plant a fruit tree. In our climate, trees are dormant during the cooler months of December, January, February, and March.
When trees hibernate, their energy consumption, metabolism, and growth slow down in order to adapt to less light and lower temperatures. During this time, your tree conserves energy in its roots. This valuable energy store will be used in the springtime when your tree wakes up.
Why plant during the dormant season?
Your tree is more likely to thrive if planted while dormant. There are three main reasons why this is the best time to plant:
Time to root
By planting in the fall or early spring, you provide ample time for your new tree to develop a strong root system. While above ground your tree is asleep, below ground roots are doing valuable work to seek out nutrients. If a tree is planted in the fall/winter, by spring it will have an ample root network filled with energy that will shoot through your young tree as it begins to wake up and grow.
Low temps, low stress
Cooler temperatures are best for your newest addition. Low temps are way less stressful for new trees, and a calm environment allows your tree to settle in and acclimate to its new home. In Victoria, our ground never really freezes because temperatures don’t get low enough for long enough and that means our growing season lasts most of the winter. So, the earlier you get your tree in the ground the more time it has to establish roots before it leafs out.
Higher chance of survival
During dormancy, your tree will be able to invest energy in root growth instead of multi-tasking and trying to do too many things at once (grow roots AND make leaves). Leaves require a lot of energy and water to grow and maintain. During the process of photosynthesis, plants actually lose water through their leaves during what’s called transpiration. Water moves through your tree and eventually evaporates via the leaves. If there are no leaves, transpiration does not happen and water can instead be used by your tree to establish a strong root network. This will make your tree much more likely to survive when it leafs out in the springtime. And the lack of leaves means you won’t need to water as frequently, especially in our wet climate where groundwater is abundant.
How should I choose my tree?
There are a couple of things to consider before planting a new tree. Yes, you want to make sure it’s going to bear fruit you’ll enjoy eating, but you need to keep in mind your current climate AND your desired tree’s pollination situation. Planting a fruit tree is not as simple as digging a hole and putting a tree in–there is some research required.
Check your growing zone
We’re lucky to be based in Victoria, where the temperate climate allows almost anything to grow. But regardless of where you live, it’s good practice to ensure the tree you’re planting is a variety that will tolerate your current growing zone. Otherwise you might be sorely disappointed! With extremely early flowering varieties, like some Japanese Plums, they might bloom before bees are even awake and willing to pollinate so you may only get a crop every few years. You can learn more about your plant hardiness zone on this Government of Canada website.
With the right site selection, it’s possible to get away with growing things that are right on the boundary of our growing zone (if you’re the type of fruit grower who’s interested in experimenting).
Site selection & rootstock
When planting, it’s critical to choose a spot in your yard that will provide the best environment for a growing tree. That means a space that is large enough for your full-grown tree, far enough away from structures and other trees, and that will receive adequate sunlight. You also need to pay attention to the soil: good drainage is essential to fruit tree survival. Before planting, check your drainage by digging a hole (1 foot deep by 1 foot wide), filling it with water, and tracking how long it takes to drain. If soil drains well, it shouldn’t take longer than 3 hours for the water to fully drain.
Rootstock is the most important part of your tree. If the rootstock is ill-suited to the growing conditions, nothing else will matter. When choosing rootstock, consider soil adaptation, disease resistance, and anchorage. Prepare yourself by understanding your yard so that you can give the experts at the nursery the most accurate information when they are helping you select your tree.
Pollinator partner: yes or no?
Does your tree require a second pollinator? This is an important question to ask when selecting your tree–if the answer is yes, you might end up with two trees (for the price of two trees). Most varieties require a partner tree to get pollinated–it’s no big deal, but definitely something you need to know. When purchasing your tree, make sure you get the full scoop from the nursery.
Less mature trees are best
While it is tempting to plant a larger tree, planting a younger, smaller tree will give you a much higher chance of long term success (we recommend a 1-2 year old whip). The biggest tree is not always the best tree–it might not have a sufficient root system to survive, having left too much of its root system in the ground when it was transplanted for sale. There are exceptions, but if you’re tree shopping and the tree looks too big for the pot it’s in, it probably is (and it probably will not thrive in your yard).
Where should I buy my tree?
Best practice is to purchase your tree from a local nursery. You’ll know that these trees have been grown in your current climate, giving them the best chance of survival in your own backyard, and you will be buying from subject experts. To be sure you’re buying from tree experts it’s good to ask specific questions, like what rootstock the tree is planted on. If the person you’re buying from doesn’t have the answer for you, you probably don’t want to purchase from that source.
If you have any questions about planting or caring for your tree, your local nursery will be the ones to ask and you want to make sure they have the most accurate information.
Luckily for you, we have our hands in a local nursery of our own. At Welland Orchard, our team has been caring for a collection of heritage apple and pear trees that are ready to take root in your yard. Prices range from $30 – $60 per tree, depending on its maturity. You can find a full list of our current inventory here. The best part about buying a tree from LifeCycles is that the proceeds go directly towards supporting our projects. A tree really is the gift that keeps on giving.
If you’re interested in purchasing a tree or have more questions about tree care, email our Orchard Coordinator Rowen.