Winter is the Time to Plant Bare-Root Fruit Trees

Gardener’s Notebook

By Joshua Burman Thayer

Joshua Burman Thayer plants fruit trees and shrubs for a Bay Area client.

There’s a lot going on in a northern forest mid-winter, but you don’t need to head into the wilderness to see it. Just look around. Similar things are happening everywhere in nature, even in the mild and urbanized East Bay. Take, for instance, those fallen leaves. They serve many functions:

  • They return carbon and nutrients to the ground.
  • They create a layer of mulch that insulates the soil from the cold.
  • When the canopy trees are bare, the heat of the winter sun can penetrate into the soil below, spawning the growth and flowering of understory herbs and shrubs.

Planting fruit trees can give your yard those advantages, and winter is a good time to plant or prune, since dormant trees are less likely to suffer from the stress.

You’ll probably get your new fruit trees in bare-root form. These are plants that have been dug from the ground when they were dormant (leafless), and their roots have been shaken free of soil, so the trees are lighter and thus easier to transport. These bare-root trees will remain dormant until warmer weather and longer days coax them from their winter rest.

Right after the holidays, most local nurseries begin offering bare-root fruit trees and shrubs at around 40% off the price they will be in spring, so now is the time to act!

Here are my recommendations for varieties to choose:

Bare-Root Fruit Trees
Gala or other low-chill apples
20th Century Asian or D’Anjou pears
Elephant Heart or Santa Rosa plums
Flavor Grenade or Flavor King pluots
Blenheim apricots
Jiro Fuyu persimmons

Bare-Root Berries
Willamette or Autumn Bliss red raspberries
Fall Gold raspberries
Munger or Cumberland Black Cap black raspberries
Flame or Thompson grapes
Vincent Tender kiwis

How to Plant:
It is important to create a fertile soil blend to go in the hole around the bare roots. You might use an OMRI-listed organic bag planting mix like FoxFarm’s Ocean Forest. Here’s what to do next to get your bare-root fruit tree planted:

  1. Measure the height of the root from root bottom to root crown and dig a hole that’s deeper and wider
    than that.
  2. Mound up a pyramid of planting mix at the bottom of the hole.
  3. Open the roots and let them skirt over the soil pyramid.
  4. Fill the hole with soil around the roots and lightly tamp to secure tree/shrub so it sits straight up in its
    new home.
  5. Mulch around the trunk and over the entire hole area with wood chips or straw. This will insulate and protect the tree’s roots while they regenerate.
  6. Water the new plants.

Want to learn more?
Find lots of good info and order bare-root stock here.

Permaculture designer and educator Joshua Burman Thayer is a regular contributor to Edible East Bay. Find him and his work at, and follow him on Twitter at @nativesungarden.