Autumn: An Ideal Season for Tree Planting

09-23-2016 in Green Farmstead Partner

September 22 marked the first day of fall. Although the traditional growing season is over for Iowa’s crop farmers, the autumnal equinox ushers in the perfect conditions to complete your tree planting.

Fall is a great time to plant shrubs and trees because it allows the roots to become established before the ground freezes. However, planting trees too late in to the fall can result in poor plant health. The ideal window of time to begin your tree planting is from September through November, or roughly six weeks before the first sign of a hard frost.

There are several reasons fall may be more favorable than a spring establishment. The key is getting a head start on root growth.

1. Cool Temperatures, Warm Weather, Moderate Moisture  
As the days grow shorter throughout the fall season, temperatures drop and the rate of photosynthesis decreases. Air temperatures are cooler, but the soil remains warm and encourages new root growth instead of top growth. In the absence of extreme heat, plant transpiration is also low, and moderate autumn rains support rapid root development.

2. Equipped to Beat the Summer Heat 
Compared to a spring establishment, trees planted in the fall develop stronger root systems that can better tolerate stress from heat and drought during the summer season. Fall may also offer a better window of opportunity for planting as spring weather often invites generous amounts of rainfall that can prevent you from digging at your site.

3. Dress Up the Farm with Fall Colors  
In addition to mitigating odor and controlling snow, trees also add visual appeal. Planting your trees in the fall will give you a glimpse of the beautiful fall foliage your trees will produce year after year.

4. Species Selection 
Before deciding when to plant your trees, remember to consider your species selection. Generally, plants with shallower, fibrous roots will adapt better during the fall season than those with fewer, less extensive root systems. Examples of trees that are recommended for fall planting include maple, spruce, pine, linden and elm trees.

Planting trees on your farm this fall?  Contact the Coalition to Support Iowa’s Farmers at 800-932-2436 or You can also connect with one of the landscapers or nursery professionals participating in the Green Farmstead Partner program.

By Haley Banwart, CSIF Assistant Field Specialist  

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