Have Potted Trees? You Don’t Have to Plant Them Right Away

If the summer weather is hot and dry, you might want to wait before you plant potted trees. And that’s a perfectly acceptable approach.

by J. Keeler Johnson
PHOTO: Daniel Johnson

Whenever I purchase new trees for my orchard, it feels as though there’s an imperative need to plant them as soon as possible. That’s true on the occasions when I purchase bare-root trees, but container-grown trees are another matter.

Even though it seems like a potted tree would benefit from being planted straight away, that isn’t always the case. It depends in large part on when you purchased the tree. If it’s early spring, great—get that tree planted before the heat of summer comes along! The same goes if it’s early fall and there’s still enough growing time left for the tree to get established before winter.

The cooler temperatures in fall can be ideal for planning trees.

But if it’s late spring or early summer, and the weather is dry with temperatures creeping up into the 80s and 90s, you might want to hold off on planting container-grown trees. And that’s a perfectly acceptable approach.

An Example

Let me give you an example. I recently purchased half a dozen fruit trees from a local nursery. I had intended to purchase fewer, but once I started looking around … well, the numbers multiplied.

They’re all lovely specimens, and I’ll be picking them up in July—right during the peak heat of summer.

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The potted trees have received diligent care and daily watering at the nursery, so subjecting them to the shock of summer planting isn’t my first choice. Summer is a very busy time of year on my farm, and I know if I were to plant them right away in my orchard (which isn’t close to a convenient water source), there would be days when I’m unable to water the trees.

But this isn’t the first time I’ve lined up trees to arrive in July, and when this happens, I wait to plant them until the end of summer. By then, temperatures have cooled down and the busyness of summer is winding down, so I have more time to drive a 35-gallon leg tank around my orchard watering each tree. For the duration of summer, I keep my trees in their pots (inside a tall fence, so they’ll be safe from hungry deer) and near a water source so daily watering by hose is quick and convenient.

Read more: Switching water tanks for hoses illustrates an important farm lesson.

It’s OK to Wait

Basically, I just pretend my trees are still at the nursery. They thrive with the daily attention they receive. Come planting time they settle right in and get to stretch their roots until winter sets in. The following spring, they wake up happy and no longer need as much water as they did immediately after planting.

Of course, every situation is different. If you live in an area with cool and/or rainy summer weather, planting potted trees in summer might be just fine. It can even be beneficial, giving them more time to settle in before winter.

But if summers are busy and you’re worried about giving freshly planted trees the attention they need to thrive in heat and dry weather, do them a favor and keep them container-bound until late summer or fall. The trees are unlikely to be bothered, and you can more easily control their environment and care until planting conditions are more suitable. That’s a win-win for you and your trees.

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