JoAnne Skelly: Spring is the second-best time to plant a tree, but don't ignore rules

My friend John recently asked me if it's too early to plant trees. This is a good question and the answer is, it depends. It depends on whether you can dig your soil well enough to properly plant a tree; whether you can water the tree as often as it needs; and whether the soil will drain if you do water the tree. It depends on whether the tree is still dormant or already has buds showing green.

The best time of year to plant most trees is the fall, when the soil is warm. Roots will have a chance to grow through much of the winter, and plants won't be stressed by high temperatures. Spring is the second-best time to plant, although spring soils are cold and roots won't grow until the soil begins to warm.

To plant a tree correctly, you have to prepare a good hole. Dig one that is as deep as the root ball and three to five times as wide. Is your soil thawed enough to allow you to do this? If yes, it's not too early to plant. Test the hole for good drainage by filling it with water. The water should drain out at minimum of a half-inch per hour; better drainage is preferable. Plant only where soils drain, so you don't drown your tree.

Is the tree still dormant? This means that buds aren't showing any green yet. If the tree was grown in a warmer climate than ours, it might already be starting to grow. This early growth is quite cold-sensitive, and the tree may be severely damaged if it is hit by a hard freeze. You can expect freezes into May, possibly June, depending on where you live and at what elevation. Dormant trees can be successfully planted now.

This is the perfect time to plant bare-root trees, especially fruit trees. They can be half the cost of container-grown plants. However, they require a bit more care when planting, such as soaking the roots for six to twelve hours prior to planting; making a cone of soil in the hole to support the roots; and placing the bud union toward the north and 2-4 inches above ground level.

For more information about planting fruit trees, attend Master Gardener Michael Janik's free lecture from 6-8 p.m. today at Bartley Ranch Regional Park in Reno.

• JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for the University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at or 775-887-2252.


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