Transplanting fruit trees and shrubs is a great way to kick start your food forest.
I’d highly recommend that you get some that are already old enough to start producing in your first year.
For example, get some blueberry bushes that’re already three years old. You’d have to have waited three years before they started producing if you were starting them from seed.
Of course, this is only possible if you transplant your trees and shrubs at the right time. So, what I’m about to show you is the best time to transplant your fruit trees, dwarf fruit trees and shrubs so that you can guarantee that’ll you get fruit from them in your first year.
The Best Time to Transplant Trees and Shrubs
Your best times are either going to be in fall, or very, very early spring – before the growing season starts.
However, in order to understand what makes these times ideal for transplanting, you’re going to have to understand two key concepts: hardening off, and transplant shock.
They’re very closely related, and simple to get your head around.
Hardening off is how perennials adapt themselves to cold conditions. Trees and shrubs need to be gradually exposed to the cold in order to develop resistance to it.
Without hardening off first, your transplanted plants are going to suffer severe shock – especially if they’ve come from an indoor environment or heated greenhouse. The bigger and more sudden the change in environment, the more damage the cold does to them.
You see, perennials get the whole of fall to acclimatize themselves to the gradually cooling down weather before the first frost hits. Fortunately, you don’t have to harden them off for that long. A couple of weeks will be enough if you’re short on time.
“How do you harden off plants?”
Simply take them outdoors for a few hours a day. Longer on mild days.
Avoid taking them out in the snow or frost though. That’ll be too harsh on them. “Too much too soon” kind of thing.
By the end of the first week that you’ve been bringing them outside, you should be able to start leaving them out there for longer and longer until you’re basically leaving them out all day. They’ll have fully hardened off by the end of the second or third week, and be ready for transplanting.
However, can only transplant them before your local last frost date if the plant hasn’t already started growing buds yet. Those delicate buds will freeze when the next frost comes and cause them a world of pain.
If your plants have no buds, then you’re good to go. If they do, then you’d better wait until the growing season starts, but keep them outside as often as you can when it isn’t frosty. Never leave them out overnight if they have buds. It’s too much of a risk to take.
Now, if you’re transplanting in spring, the reason why you want to harden plants off before the growing season starts is that you want to cause as little transplant shock as possible.
When transplant shock happens, the plant’s roots can’t cope with the sudden change in environment, and the plant is unable to grow until they recover. If the roots cannot recover, which usually happens because they’re too dry, the plant will eventually die.
It’s not actually root damage caused by digging them up that causes this. It’s actually the shock from being suddenly exposed to a different environment than what they’re used to.
Ways to Minimize Transplant Shock
First of all, cover all ground above and around the roots with a load of wood chips. I’m talking at least 5-6 inches of wood chips here. With mature trees, even more.
They’ll keep the roots protected from the cold, but more importantly, they’ll keep the soil moist. Remember how I said that transplant shock usually happens because the roots are too dry? This will solve that problem.
Again, hardening the plants off properly is the key to reducing transplant shock in the first place. However, it really does help to avoid causing further damage to the roots. Even if you’ve hardened the plant off properly, you can’t leave the plant out there in early spring without a covering of wood chips or other mulch on top of the soil and expect it to not go through transplant shock from root damage.
That being said, it always will happen to some degree, but the point is, if you do it right, it’ll take a matter of days for your plants to recover, rather than a few weeks.
That’s why transplanting in spring a few weeks before the growing season starts is the ideal time if you didn’t get chance last fall. It guarantees that your plants have enough time to recover if they do undergo transplant shock. They’ll be ready for when the growing season starts, and you won’t have to worry about them being unable to take advantage of the warming weather.
If you want to make extra sure that your transplanted trees and shrubs develop a strong root structure in the shortest possible time, then the best way would be to sprinkle Mycorrhizal Fungi directly on the roots as you transplant them.
They’re not a fertilizer. Mycorrhizal fungi develop a symbiotic relationship with the plant by attaching to the root system and massively help the plant to absorb nutrients and water, while the plant feeds the fungi with the extra carbohydrates from photosynthesis that they don’t need.
Plants produce roughly 40% more of these carbohydrates than they actually need, which is why directly coating their roots in mycorrhizal fungi is always a good thing. They feed off the plants, but in a good way. Pretty cool.
You can check out this resource here for some scientific information about these fungi.
Can I Transplant in Winter?
Yes, you absolutely can, but only if your plants are already in a dormant state. That means they’ll have been outside since fall, and are completely hardened off and impervious to the frost.
That’s quite unlikely if you’re ordering your fruit trees and shrubs online. They’ll almost certainly have been grown indoors or in a heated greenhouse, and it’s pretty difficult to harden them off if you’re in the middle of winter. Choose the mildest days you can, and take it slow.