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Why Fall is the Best Time to Plant Trees in Canada

by on September 12, 2023
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Over the last 10 years, my husband and I have planted over 500 trees on our little 4-acre homestead here in Manitoba, Canada. Yes, 500! We’ve found that trees we plant in that sweet spot of Fall — when it’s not yet too cold but also not too warm — do the best and put on tons of new growth that next growing season. I’ll unveil exactly when that time is in this blog post! So here’s a little bit more on the benefits of Fall tree planting and some advice to set you up for success, including what trees to select and how to prepare your planting sight.

Topics covered in this blog:

  • The Benefits of Planting Trees in the Fall In Canada
  • How To Select The Right Trees For Your Grow Zone
  • The Exact Perfect Time To Plant Trees In The Fall In Canada
  • Preparing Your Soil For Tree Planting Success
  • Protecting Your Trees From Winter Weather
  • How To Maximize Tree Growth In A Short Growing Season

The Benefits of Planting Trees in the Fall In Canada

While some gardeners may argue that planting trees in the Spring has its benefits, we’ve found that Fall is the best time to plant trees in Canada for a few key reasons:

1. Fall planting gives trees a chance to become established and properly set their roots before Winter arrives.

2. There’s increased moisture in the soil in the Fall as well as the presence of beneficial fungi and bacteria, which provides great nutrients for newly planted trees.

3. Winter snow provides moisture and insulation for the roots so no need to worry about watering and/or tree roots getting too dry as there is when planting in the Spring/Summer

But the biggest benefit we’ve found to planting trees in the Fall on our Zone 3 homestead is the consistently cool temperatures at this time of year.

Without the Summer heat, trees planted in the Fall aren’t under any additional stress during the establishment process. This allows them to allocate their energy towards root development and growth rather than just “surviving” the Spring/Summer heat.

How To Select The Right Trees For Your Grow Zone

When it comes to selecting the right trees for your grow zone, I’d suggest first starting with a landscaping plan. Here’s an example of the plan we had made for our property.

We invested a couple hundred dollars into this landscape plan and have referenced it nearly every year! It’s been so worth the money. Of course you can easily make your own plan too with pen and paper.

Our landscape plan has helped us plan for the long-term, thinking about the trees we’ll plant in future years as well. It also helps ensure that we’re not regretting tree placement and having to re-do our work.

Once you’ve got your plan in place, you can start thinking about what tree varieties are right for your grow zone.

While there are thousands of amazing trees for northern climates, look for the following two key characteristics in the trees you select:

  • Cold Hardy — we usually pick trees that have been proven to succeed in a grow zone a bit colder than ours for the best chance of success. I usually pick trees that are hardy for Zone 2 and they do exceptionally well on our Zone3b property.
  • Hybrid Variety — we’ve found hybrid tree varieties that have been specifically bred for short growing seasons and can therefore but on more growth in a shorter period of time do great in Zone 3.

More on this and The Best Tree Varieties For A Zone 3 Garden here in this blog!

And lastly, it can be so beneficial to talk to your local experts, such as arborists or tree nurseries, who are familiar with the trees that thrive in your area. They can provide valuable insights and recommendations based on their knowledge and experience.

The Exact Perfect Time To Plant Trees In The Fall In Canada

This may be controversial, but here’s what we’ve found is the exact perfect time to plant trees in the Fall in Canada specifically here in our Zone 3 climate.

The best time to plant trees is the last two weeks of October and leading into the first week of November.

At this time, the ground is not yet frozen but we’ve already had several light frosts. The daytime temperatures typically aren’t getting higher than 10-15°C and nighttimes are consistently dropping to freezing or just above.

This little pocket of time ensures that trees won’t start putting on new leaf growth but can instead focus on establishing their roots before the actual hard freeze hits.

So there you have it — the best time to plant trees in Canada in the Fall is last two weeks of October and leading into the first week of November.

Comment below if you’ve found a different time that works well for Fall tree planting, I’d love to hear!

Preparing Your Soil For Tree Planting Success

Planting Prairie Sky Poplar seedlings (or whips) along our well-tilled tree line.

Time to get planting! One of the other great things about planting trees in the Fall is that the soil is easily workable, so you don’t have to work too hard to dig your holes.

Before you start digging, evaluate the planting site and ensure it’s well draining to avoid sitting water that can quickly lead to root rot.

There’s two ways to prepare your soil depending on the size of tree you’re planting.

Tree Planting Steps When Planting Whips:

If planting tree seedlings or whips (a slender, unbranched shoot or plant), you’ll want to plant into tilled soil that is light and fluffy. You can easily plant these small trees by hand as pictured above. In this photo, my husband and I filled our wheelbarrow with hundreds of Poplar whips and planted them by hand by simply planting each whip a few inches into the soil. We just used a sharp, metal shovel to dig and fill our holes. Easy as that!

We do not add any additional compost or fertilizer to the soil and this is key! You don’t want your trees to start putting on new leaf growth in the Fall only for it to fall off with the first freeze. Instead, you want the trees to focus their energy on establishing.

So planting into your native soil that is been well-tilled works perfectly fine.

Tree Planting Steps When Planting Established Trees:

On the other hand, we’ve taken a far different approach when planting well established and mature trees from a nursery. In this case, you will either require heavy-machinery to dig holes (if planting trees that are 6ft tall or more) or will need to dig a large enough hole for the root ball to sit inside.

The approach we’ve taken when digging tree holes is to dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball (typically about 12 inches or so) but 2x as wide.

This video will walk you further through how to prepare your tree planting hole. We’ve followed it and found the advice very handy!

Protecting Your Trees From Winter Weather

As mentioned above, planting trees in the Fall is really the first step to setting them up for success for survival throughout Winter. But to improve your chances even more, there are a few additional things you can do to protect your trees from harsh, Canadian Winter weather.

First before Winter hits, we make sure we heavily water our trees and then mulch.

We heavily water newly planted whips for at least 1-2 weeks after planting.

We use these 100ft soaker hoses and run them along our tree line. We place them a 1ft or so away from the trunk of the tree to encourage strong root development away from the base of the tree.

Watering your trees heavily in the Fall helps protects your roots from getting damaged by frost. The moisture actually acts a protective barrier since wet soil stays warmer than dry.

Then we apply a layer of organic mulch to insulate the roots and retain moisture in the soil. There’s many different types of mulch you can use, but we’ve found wood chips are the most heavy-duty for tree roots.

Another way to protect your trees is setting up a snow fence to act as a barrier from wind blown snow accumulating near your trees. This is easy and inexpensive to do. Definitely recommend starting here!

Finally, you can also use tree wraps or burlap to protect your trees throughout Canadian Winters. While this is a really popular approach with many gardeners, it’s not something we have done personally and our trees have always done really well.

Instead, one thing we have instead done is put plastic tree guards around the base of our tree to protect it from deer and rabbits who are looking for bark to munch on during the Winter. This works great, I highly recommend!

How To Maximize Tree Growth In A Short Growing Season

Finding ways to help your trees grow quickly is what everyone wants to know, right? Of course! Trees take a long time to get established so first off, patience is key!

As mentioned above, selecting a hybrid variety can also help speed things up. For example, our Prairie Sky Poplar trees are hybrids and have grown over +15ft tall in just 5 years!

Other things we’ve found that maximize tree growth in our short growing season is keeping our tree line well maintained, including tilling it with our tractor as well as by hand to manage weeds.

Weeds can quickly choke out tree roots when they’re first establishing! We typically till our tree line 2-3x throughout the growing season.

We also prioritize watering often and heavily in the Spring when the soil is dry and our trees are just starting to put on new growth again. This is so important and can really make all the difference with how much your trees grow within a season.

Don’t only depend on Mother Nature and rain fall. A little extra help with watering will go a long way. Try out soaker hoses — they’ll save you time and keep the soil consistently moist.

And finally, be sure to prune and fertilize your trees!

Simply use pruning sheers to remove any branches that are damaged or dying. This allows the tree to focus its energy on putting on new growth.

For fertilizing, we like to top dress our trees with a thick layer of compost at the beginning of the season.

We usually just do this once because we have a lot of trees and not that much free time (as I’m sure many of you are in the same boat!).

But you could easily organically fertilize your trees a few times throughout the season to really maximize growth. Just be sure to stop fertilizing well before Fall so your trees can focus on root growth and preparing for Winter rather than growing new foliage.

And there you have it!

Now you know why Fall is the best time to plant trees in Canada and the strategies we follow for planting success!

If you have any unanswered questions regarding planting trees, be sure to comment below. I love hearing from you and answer all comments.

You can follow @fromsoiltosoul on Instagram and Pinterest for more gardening content too.

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