Why You Should Plant Tree and Shrubs in the Winter! (And How To Do It)


We just bought some trees at a late fall sale. Can we plant them now, or should we leave them in their pots until spring? 

How many of us put off our landscape planting needs until you notice warmer spring temperatures? How many of us think we cannot plant in winter? How many of us think winter is a bad time to plant?

Go ahead and plant them!

I’ve planted well through December and even into January with SUCCESS!

Winter is actually an ideal time for planting because there is less water stress on newly planted trees and shrubs!

Sometimes when we plant a tree or shrub during the growing season we may inadvertently damage active roots as we remove it from its pot. If roots are damaged during planting, your tree or shrub may experience water stress and damage.   

A tree or shrub with damaged roots may take some time to recover and may look “wilted” for a couple days to weeks! 

Planting a dormant tree or shrub during winter avoids this water stress issue! If roots are damaged during winter planting your tree or shrub won’t wilt!

Plus when growth resumes in spring your plant will ‘wake up’ in its new home with no shock or stress that planting in the growing season can cause. Cold temperatures or frost will not harm tree or shrub if it is dormant!  

Here are a few tips for seeing your winter planting success:

  • Dig a Square Hole: It is important to change the shape of the hole from round to square when planting any time of the year! This will improve the health of the roots and prevent your plant from getting root bound.
Image Below: Left is what you want! Right is what happens when you dig a round hole. 
  • Pour Hydrogen Peroxide into Hole: Ensure that you are saturating all the sides and edges of the hole with hydrogen peroxide. This will help to soften your soil, to once again prevent your plant from getting root bound.

Soil BEFORE hydrogen peroxide. These sides will turn rock hard as soon as you refill your hole with soil, and cause your plants roots to struggle getting though.

Soil AFTER hydrogen peroxide. This is what you want. The hydrogen peroxide has softened the sides of your hole, and your plants roots can easily navigate through.

  • Backfill with the SAME Soil: Ensure that you are ONLY using your NATIVE soil. Do not fill the hole with any soil amendments, compost, potting soil, fill dirt, or mulch. Your goal is to get your new tree or shrub used to the soil it will be living in right off the bat; backfilling with any other substitutes will confuse your plant and stunt its growth.
  • Avoid over stimulating growth:Don’t fertilize. You can add a little TerraPro and a small amount of Protein Crumblies. Ensure that you put these items ON TOP, not in the hole with the plant.
  • Don’t disturb the plant: Avoid pruning, which shouldn’t be done during the first year.  
  • Keep plants watered: Freezing damages roots, even in established plants. The worst part of cold damage is caused by drying out. Keep newly planted trees and shrubs watered every week or two until the ground freezes, and especially right before a heavy freeze.
  • Apply Mulch: Add mulch to keep newly planted shrubs insulated. Mulch will protect the roots from frost and keep the soils moist

The only time planting in the winter is difficult is if the ground is frozen solid and unworkable. In this case you can try pouring hydrogen peroxide over the soil, which will help soften your soil and prep it for planting!

Dig the hole 1 foot wider than the diameter of the root dimensions and no deeper, place your tree or shrub in this hole, replace the native soil (just removed) using no amendments, top with TerraPro, Protein Crumblies, and mulch, then water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots.

Winter watering consists of watering once every 1-3 weeks dependent upon your soils moisture content.

Easy as Pie!! 

Happy Planting! 

About Amanda Melendrez

Hi there! I'm Amanda Melendrez and I am crazy about plants and soil health! I am the daughter of the world renowned Horticulturist and Soil Scientist and the owner of Trees That Please and Soil Secrets, Michael M. Melendrez. Learn how to grow anything, no matter where you live. The mission of this blog is to spread the joy and knowledge of home gardening, agriculture and innovative soil health solutions.