Planting Timing

When to Plant a Tree

Time of year is a very important factor in tree planting. It affects how well the tree will respond to root-ball disturbance and change in environment. To give your tree the best possible chance for survival, plant it during the dormant season. The tree will still need supplemental watering for the first few years, but it will have a head start in the establishment process.

Planting in the Dormant Season

A tree’s chances for survival are greatest if planted during the dormant season, from mid / late October to early March. During this time, a tree puts more energy toward root production than it does during the growing season when more energy goes toward leaf and shoot growth and reproduction.


The roots that a tree produces in dormancy contribute to its “establishment” in the soil. Establishment occurs during the first few years after a tree is planted, when the tree is growing an extensive root system to help it access the water, minerals, and air that it needs. After establishment, a tree should not need any supplemental watering except for when under extreme periods of drought.

Planting in the Growing Season

Trees that are planted during the growing season have to deal with some tough conditions:
  • Competition - Turf grass competes with tree roots for resources, making it difficult for a tree to get everything it needs.
  • Energy - most of the tree’s energy is being used for leaf and shoot production and reproduction. So, there is little energy available for expanding the tree’s currently minimal root system.
  • Temperature - trees leaf out and produce shoot growth as the weather gets warmer. As it gets warmer, water also becomes less available. The increased temperatures cause soil moisture to evaporate quickly, leaving trees without established root systems to dry out just as quickly.

Transplant Shock

The stress caused by all of these issues is known as “transplant shock”, and if a tree is not given the attention and care it needs in order to become established, the stress can rapidly lead to decline and death.