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Garden Help Desk: Know the right seasons for your plants

By USU Extension - | Apr 8, 2023

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Early spring is the time to find a good selection of bare-root fruit trees.

There were bare-root fruit trees at the store a few days ago. Isn’t April too late to plant bare-root trees?

It’s true that bare-root trees need to be planted earlier in the spring than trees in containers. A calendar can help you decide when to plant a bare-root tree, but there’s more to consider than just a date on the page. The weather, your soil and the condition of the tree you choose are three important parts of deciding when, or whether, you can plant a bare root tree.

Bare-root trees need special care because of the way they are harvested, stored and shipped. Just as the name implies, bare root trees aren’t grown in pots with soil. Instead, these trees are harvested while dormant, the soil around the roots is removed (along with most of the smaller, delicate roots) and the trees are kept in cold storage until it’s time to ship the trees to nurseries or gardeners in late winter. The roots may be packed in moist wood shavings or bark nuggets to prevent them from drying out.

Pay attention to the weather. How was the last half of winter? What is the spring like? Some years we have a mild late winter and short spring. When late winter weather is mild, the soil can be worked earlier, and bare-root trees can be planted in March. Mild weather means a bare root tree will break dormancy earlier, making it important to get bare-root trees planted earlier.

Other years, like this year, winter temperatures last longer on the calendar, keeping our soils soggy and making outdoor work miserable. It can take a bit more time to get our bare-root trees planted. We might not get our trees planted until sometime in mid to late April, which takes us to the end of the bare-root planting season.

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Forsythia shrubs can be a good reminder that it's time to apply pre-emergent herbicides.

The condition of the tree you’re considering is also important. Bare-root trees need to be dormant for transplanting. Their undersized root systems need a head start before they can provide enough moisture to support the growth of leaves or flowers. If the late winter or early spring weather was mild where the trees were prepared and shipped, some of the trees in the shipment might break dormancy before they can be planted. Look through the selection of bare root trees at the nursery before making your choice and leave behind any trees that already have opening buds or leaves.

Is your landscape ready for your bare-root tree? Have you prepared a good location for your fruit tree — good drainage and full sun? Is the soil workable or is it still wet from early spring snow and rain? If your landscape looks ready for your new tree, get it planted as soon as possible. Your new fruit tree’s most important job this year is developing a robust root system, so don’t apply fertilizer that would stimulate growth until next year.

Is it too late to use pre-emergent to control weeds on an empty lot? We have a building lot in the middle of a new subdivision that has had bad weed infestations the last two years. Most of the lots are now built. We are not ready to build but want to be good neighbors by not having bad weeds on the property.

It’s great that you’re trying to be considerate of your future neighbors!

There are probably some weeds that have already germinated on your property, but many weed seeds are still dormant and won’t germinate until things warm up just a bit more. Forsythia shrubs bloom at about the time that the soils are warm enough for many of our common weeds to germinate, so rule of thumb is, “apply pre-emergent herbicide when forsythia shrubs bloom.”

Courtesy Meredith Seaver

Bare-root trees with leaves or opening bud have broken dormancy, will struggle to become established after planting, and often die.

You can use a post-emergent herbicide for the weeds that have already germinated. Check the label for temperature limits, as most products can be applied in the spring when temperatures are too low. There are also upper temperature limits for applying some herbicides after the season warms up.

Weed control isn’t a once-and-done program. You’ll want to check on your property often and deal with any new weeds as you see them.

There are quite a few pre-emergent and post-emergent weed control products available. Make sure you read the labels carefully before making your purchase so that you don’t unintentionally apply a product that prevents you from establishing your new landscape once you’re ready.


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