How to plant deciduous plants

Most plants don’t like being planted out during the middle of winter. But for many deciduous plants, this is the best time to plant.


Deciduous plants mostly come from the colder areas of the world. They lose all or most of their leaves during winter to protect themselves from frosts and snow.



Deciduous plants go into a state of hibernation during winter. This means that they will suffer much less stress if they are transplanted at this time. By the spring/summer growing season, they are established and ready to grow rapidly. 

Many deciduous plants are grown in the ground in field nurseries and then dug up in winter. So now is the time to look in the nursery for roses, fruit trees and trees and shrubs with bright autumn foliage.



When you visit a retail nursery, you will most likely find the bare-rooted plants stored in a temporary holding trench, filled with moist sand, sawdust or soil.


When you have made your selection, the nursery person will lift out the plant, gently shake or rinse the soil or sand from the roots, then wrap the roots with sphagnum moss or moist straw. An outer layer of wet newspaper covered with plastic ensures the roots stay moist until planting. 

The plant can be kept in its moist packaging for a day or two, but if you can’t plant it out within a couple of days, remove the packaging material and place the roots in a hole or bucket filled with moist soil or sand. Lightly spray the stems with water every couple of days. The plant can be stored this way for up to one week before planting.




Select your site carefully. Don’t plant large trees under power lines and ensure that roses and fruit trees will receive adequate light.

Dig a hole that is wide enough for all the roots. For most plants about 1 ½ times the size of the rootball is the best.

Create a mound in the middle of the hole.

Take the plant out of its wrapper. Don’t allow the roots of the plant to dry out while you are working.

Place the centre of the trunk over the mound and spread out the roots.

If roots or branches have been damaged, remove them with a sharp, clean pair of secateurs.

Ensure that the base of the trunk is level with the surrounding soil.

Backfill the hole, taking care not to damage the roots.

Insert a hose into the planting hole and turn on the water at moderate pressure until the hole is saturated.

Mulch around the plant.

Wait until spring, when the new growth has started, to apply a complete fertiliser.



Deciduous trees such as Maples, Poplars and Ashes prepare for the onset of winter by storing the energy from their leaves back in the branches and the trunk. While this is happening, the leaves provide magnificent displays of autumn colour. It is not advised to prune the branches of these trees at planting time. 

Other deciduous trees, such as flowering Prunus, are grown for colours of their early spring flowers. Many of the new ornamental Prunus and Pyrus species provide spectacular displays in spring. These include Prunus cerasifera ‘Nigra’ and ’Pendula’ and Pyrus calleryana ‘çhanticleer’ and ‘Red Spire’. These trees should have approximately one third of their branches removed at planting time.


Although some gardeners disagree, most people still prune their fruit trees during winter. When you plant your new fruit tree, prune it to produce the desired shape and to promote new growth that will produce the next crop of fruit.


Roses should be heavily pruned during winter to promote the new growth that will provide the next crop of flowers. Remove at least 50% of old growth. In many cases, bare rooted roses will have been pruned before you buy them.

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