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Yes! Fall is a Great Time to Plant Trees and Shrubs

Last fall, the City of St. Paul showed up as snowflakes fell on a November day to plant a tiny white swamp oak on the boulevard in front of our house. I thought, “Really? You’re going to plant that little thing now? It’s snowing!” I was skeptical, so I decided to do some research.

In my searching, I found that yes, in fact, you can certainly plant trees and hardy shrubs here in Minnesota later than you may think. You’ll just want to make sure you plant with enough time for the roots to establish a bit before the ground freezes. Late November may be pushing it, but with the proper preparation and care afterwards, a healthy tree or woody shrub can be planted through October and even into the first part of November.

While you may find the selection at garden centers and nurseries to be less desirable later in the season, there are a number of perks to planting late in the season. You’ll avoid the mid-summer heat that is hard on new plantings, and they’ll have an extra season to establish roots before the summer heat returns. In addition, you may be able to find some good sales.

Here are some things to consider when planting trees or woody shrubs in the fall:

  • Choose a tree or shrub appropriate for the site. Consider soil type and drainage, sun and wind exposure, and water availability.

  • Choose a less-mature tree. While you may want a bigger one to fill the space, smaller, less-mature trees will have faster early growth and suffer less from being transplanted.

  • When planting, set the roots up for success, as root growth is what trees and shrubs focus on in the fall, rather than leaf growth. Dig a hole at least a foot wider than the container/root ball and loosen the soil around the hole. Score and rough up the root ball, as many trees and shrubs from garden centers will be pretty root bound by this point in the season.

  • Do not fertilize, as you want to avoid encouraging new leaf growth, which will be harmed by the cold temperatures.

  • Mulch to help retain moisture and protect the roots for the winter. Be sure mulch is moved away from the base trunk of the tree to avoid growth of unwanted roots, and mulch all the way to the edge of the tree’s canopy.

  • Water daily, unless it rains, for the first two weeks. Then, water a couple of times a week until the ground freezes.

  • Protect against winter critters and extreme temperatures: wrap tree trunks with paper or plastic tree wrap or hardware cloth to protect bark, and wrap conifers and shrubs in burlap.

For more advice on planning and site preparation for, as well as the planting of trees, see the article by Extension educators, “Planting and Transplanting Trees and Shrubs.”

For more tips on preparing trees and shrubs for winter see Joe Baltrukonis’s article, “Preparing Trees and Shrubs for Winter.”

So if you’re wondering whether or not to take on one more planting project yet this fall, you may decide to go for it, save yourself some time in the spring, and enjoy the winter interest of your new planting(s).


Baltrukonis, Joe. “Preparing Trees and Shrubs for Winter.” Ramsey County Master Gardener, 13 Nov. 2021,

Planting and Transplanting Trees and Shrubs.” University of Minnesota Extension, 2021,

Smetanka, Mary Jane. “Fall Is Prime Time to Plant Trees in Minnesota.” Star Tribune, 28 Sept. 2018,

Swee, Becky. “When Is It Too Late to Plant?” Minnesota State Horticultural Society, 17 Oct. 2018,

“Why It's Great to Plant Trees in the Fall.” Arbor Day Blog, Arbor Day Foundation, Aug. 2019,

Writer Biography:

Melissa Andersen (she/her/hers) is an educator and a gardener, particularly interested in native plants and pollinator-friendly garden practices. She has been with the Ramsey Country Master Gardener program since 2019.

Photo credit: Leaves, Pixabay, royalty-free


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