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Posted on May 26, 2013
The best time to plant trees and shrubs varies based on the climate and on the particular kind of plant. Transplanting is very disruptive to the growing process. If this disruption occurs at the wrong time, plants can go into shock and may not survive. That is why it is advisable to transplant trees and shrubs when they are dormant or least active. Not all trees and shrubs have the same dormancy periods, and that is why the best time to transplant depends on the particular species. Newly transplanted trees or shrubs need time to root in their new home, and the growth of any plant is usually linked to weather. That is why climate is also an important factor in deciding when to plant trees and shrubs.
Trees and shrubs should be transplanted when they are dormant. Growth is halted or very slow during this period, and the plants are at their lowest risk for transplant shock. Deciduous trees, which shed their leaves seasonally, move into dormancy when the leaves drop in the fall. They remain dormant until the spring months when many begin to flower. The presence or absence of leaves is not the sole indicator of dormancy because many plants flower before new leaves develop. Maples, oaks, and elms are common examples of deciduous trees. Fruit trees, dogwoods, and redbuds are good examples of deciduous trees that become active and blossom before leaves form each spring. Viburnums, chokeberries, privets, and lilacs are examples of deciduous shrubs.
Evergreens are trees or shrubs that retain their foliage throughout all four seasons. They never truly become dormant, but growth slows considerably during cold winter months. When the only available water is in the form of ice or snow, an evergreen’s growth rate is almost nonexistent. Since this is as close as evergreens come to dormancy, this is when they should be transplanted. Hollies and conifers are common examples of evergreen plants.
The best time to plant within the dormancy period is usually late winter or early spring. While deciduous trees become dormant during the fall, the approach of winter leaves little time for roots to become established. This is not critically necessary, but healthier root systems help plants survive adverse weather. Trees and shrubs usually suffer unavoidable damage to their root systems when they are prepared for transplanting, and the roots systems are already stunted if they have been grown in a container. It is generally a good idea to allow transplanted trees and shrubs an opportunity to establish a more substantial root system before facing a harsh winter.
Early spring planting is ideal. The trees or shrubs have not awakened from their dormancy, and the coldest temperatures are behind them for another growing season. It is important, however, to transplant early in the spring. If blossoms are present, then the tree has already awakened and will be stressed by the manipulation.
The timing of the transplant may be dictated by the simple availability of the plant. Trees are often sold in the spring when blossoms or leaves have already appeared. Even though this is not the best time for transplanting, it may have to suffice. Frequent watering is essential when planting trees under these conditions. The worst time to transplant a tree or shrub is in the full heat of summer.