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Fall Planting of Apples

Mario Miranda Sazo, Cultural Practices
Lake Ontario Fruit Program

November 20, 2013

 The weather is cooperating, the soil is on the semidry side, and harvest is almost finished in Western NY. This has some growers thinking about a head start on next spring's work.  In recent years, fall planting has become the norm for a few Western NY growers who have successfully planted in the fall for several consecutive years. These new orchards have shown a strong growth the first year compared to spring planted trees. Fall planted trees have also shown better blooming synchrony with older established orchards and thus are more likely to be protected for fireblight with streptomycin spray programs on the farm.  While new spring planted trees bloom later than established orchards when temperatures are warmer, they are at higher risk of blossom blight if left unprotected or with fewer streptomycin sprays.
Fall planting can also be a good strategy to avoid planting delays in the spring due to unpredictable rainy weather conditions and/or late snow cover. Sometimes a grower can lose 30 or 40 days just waiting for the soil to be dry out to the right moisture conditions when trying to plant early in the spring. Fall planting also allows early root establishment and maximum tree growth which are critical for a new high density planting the first year. But is fall the best time to plant, or are there any problems or concerns to consider?
Successful fall planting requires a combination of conditions: (1) a well-prepared site with good drainage, weeds under control and minimal rodent and deer populations, (2) mild weather and warm soil temperatures for several weeks after planting to encourage root establishment, (3) nursery trees that begin their dormancy process early, including leaf drop, (4) a nursery supplier that is willing to fall dig trees, (5) sufficient labor to plant trees quickly without drying, and (6) proper soil conditions to re-close the soil around the roots without leaving air pockets.  The soil should flow when plowed or disced to allow the soil to flow around the roots as the tree planter passes. This last point is probably the most critical.  There are some fall seasons in Western NY that are just too wet and proper soil conditions are never achieved after Oct 15.  It is a costly mistake to 'mud' tree in if the soil is too wet.  This can lead to tree dessication and death. In those years we recommend that the trees be left in the nursery or stored until the spring.
If you can satisfy the 6 conditions listed above, the following practical tips can help you have a successful fall planting:
1. Nursery trees need to experience cool temperatures and short daylengths to encourage dormancy. Frost will promote leaf fall, and some nurserymen use copper sprays to encourage leaf abscission. If the trees are moved before dormancy, they could begin to grow again, which could predispose them to winter injury.
2. Once the trees show signs of dormancy, they can be dug and moved. Total leaf removal is necessary only if trees will be in storage for some time, to prevent diseases. It is critical to prevent roots from drying out, especially since they may not be fully dormant.  Use covering tarps and wet down any roots that seem dry.
3. The roots and soil need to be in intimate contact immediately after planting to ensure the trees survive. Where a tree planter is used, the presser wheels need to be adjusted properly. Hand planted trees should be tramped well around the trunk. A follow-up watering is recommended if a soaking rain does not occur within a few days.
4. There is a risk of winter injury with fall planted apple trees, especially to the lower trunk and scaffold branches, because they are the last to harden off fully. Mounding up soil up to twenty inches around the trunk has an insulating effect against sudden freezes, and can be left to prevent insects from boring into the rootstock but it should be removed the next spring to prevent scion rooting.
If all these precautions are followed, fall planting of apple trees can help your new orchard get off to a quick start next spring.



more crops
Apples

Apples

Apricots

Apricots

Asian Pears

Asian Pears

Blueberries

Blueberries

Cherries

Cherries

Currants

Currants

Gooseberries

Gooseberries

Nectarines

Nectarines

Peaches

Peaches

Pears

Pears

Plums

Plums

Raspberries / Blackberries

Raspberries / Blackberries

Strawberries

Strawberries

Unusual Fruit

Unusual Fruit

more crops

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