What Are Fall Planting Risks?

With all the practical reasons of why you should plant trees and shrubs in fall, are there any fall planting risks

The biggest risk of fall planting is having the temperatures drop below freezing for both day and night over 3 days. This can freeze the plant's root system or damage new growth. Freezing periods can easily happen in spring. When they do, generally established and mature plants get damaged. 

Tree and shrub transplants do best when they have 4 to 6 weeks of mild weather where the ground remains warm after planting. This allows the roots to further develop before continually freezing weather. Rainfall during November and December help to reduce hand watering.

Newly planted plants often die during the winter from exposure. This means that the root system is pushed out of the ground from the pressure of freeze and thaw cycles. It then pops out of the ground and the exposed root system freezes. When you've fall planted, it's always a good idea to walk through the landscape and step around those plants to make sure they aren't creeping out.

That being noted, fall is still an excellent time to plant especially in areas of zones 5 going south. Here in Middle Tennessee (zone 7), we safely plant on into December as our really cold weather doesn't generally begin until January to February. Of course, there can always be cold snaps. While they can't be predicted, they can be planned. 

How to plan for cold weather snaps

  • Apply a 3 inch thick layer of shredded bark mulch around the base of newly planted plants - it helps to keep the ground temperature more stable
  • Place a layer of straw (not hay) over perennials, ground covers and small growing fruit plants
  • Use old towels, sheets, or blankets to wrap around trees and shrubs when the temps dip below freezing for over 24 hours - remove them when temp jumps above freezing
  • When possible choose container grown plants over bare root in cold climate areas for late fall planting