Late winter to early spring is usually the best time to plant fruit trees.
You can plant trees in the fall, but there are risks of frost damage.
Summer and winter aren’t ideal times for planting fruit trees.
It’s possible to plant from seeds, but the tree will not be the same as its parent.
Once a tree is 1–2 years old, it can take 2–6 years or more to bear fruit.
There’s nothing like a well-loved fruit tree that faithfully produces year after year—it’s extremely rewarding and makes your world-famous apple pie taste that much sweeter. Like anything you plant, though, timing is crucial for successful rooting and fruiting. Here’s what you need to know about when to get your young fruit trees in the ground.
What Time of Year Is Best for Planting a Fruit Tree?
Generally speaking, late winter to early spring is the ideal time of year for planting fruit and citrus trees. This allows them ample time to develop an established root system before they get tested by the toils of winter. If the soil is soft enough to dig up with a shovel and not overly wet, you should be in good shape to plant.
It’s also possible to plant trees in the fall, but this carries a much greater risk of cold damage (or death) during the winter. On the plus side, the tree’s root system generally grows quicker as the demands on the plant itself lessen while it prepares for its winter dormancy.
When Is the Worst Time to Plant Fruit Trees?
Winter is rarely a viable time to plant a fruit tree, as cold weather can damage or kill it before it has the time to establish a solid root system. The exception is warmer climates with mild winters, though it’s still not the ideal time to plant.
Summer is another iffy time to plant your fruit trees. Just like with frigid temperatures, extreme heat can stress the plant out. On top of that, there is often much lower moisture content in the soil, making it difficult to keep the tree adequately watered.
Choosing Which Type of Young Tree to Plant
The quickest and easiest method for growing fruit trees is to pick up young trees from your local nursery. These come as bareroot, container, or balled-and-burlapped trees. As a rule of thumb, if the nursery has it for sale, then it’s a good time to plant.
Bareroot trees have an exposed root system that gets shaken free of soil and packed in moisture-holding materials. These get uprooted while they’re dormant and not producing leaves or fruit. It’s important to plant these ASAP, as they won’t last long without soil.
Container trees come ready to plant with soil and established roots. Although it’s possible to keep these in the container, their roots won’t have as much room to spread out. They won’t be as strong or produce as much fruit. Unless the tree is a dwarf variety, it’s best to get them in the ground where they have adequate room to grow.
Balled and Burlapped
Balled and burlapped trees have established roots in a small amount of soil to keep them healthy until it’s time to plant. Like container trees, these can go in the ground at any time of the year, though your best bet is during the fall, early spring, or late winter.
Can You Grow a Fruit Tree From a Seed?
If only it were as simple as spitting out the seeds of a Honeycrisp and having them grow into a never-ending source of your favorite apple. While it’s possible to grow a tree if you’re patient, most fruit trees are heterozygous, meaning they inherited traits from each parent tree. Any new offspring grown from their seeds will not carry the same traits or bear the same kind of fruit.
Picking Your Variety of Fruit Tree
When growing fruit trees and other plants in your edible landscape, it’s important to select varieties that naturally thrive in your area’s climate. This will also give you the largest window of when to plant the fruit trees. Frost-tender trees such as citrus are best suited for milder climates, though it’s possible to grow them in containers and bring them inside before freezing temperatures hit.
Another thing to consider is whether the tree is cross-pollinating or self-pollinating. Most fruit trees will require at least one other compatible tree to produce. Planting trees that attract pollinators will help your entire garden thrive.
When Can You Expect Your First Fruit Harvests?
Unlike when you harvest a vegetable garden, fruit trees have delayed gratification. Once a tree is around one or two years old, which is typically the age they’ll be when you bring them home from the nursery, it can take two to six years or more for the tree to fruit.