The Optimal Planting Time: Autumn or Spring Planting?

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:24 pm

Planting is now done all year round. That is quite possible. Especially when it comes to so-called container plants. These are plants that are offered for sale in a large pot. So the form of the offer seems to play a role for the planting season: as bare-root plants, balled plants or potted plants.
Bare-root plants

Bare-root plants are sold without soil at the roots. Supply and planting can therefore only take place in a limited time window. Planting should take place sometime between the end of September and the end of April, with autumn planting usually being the best solution. Most deciduous trees, fruit trees and hedge plants can be bought bare-root, as they grow best in this form. Another advantage of bare-root plants is their low price. Bare-root plants are best planted immediately after purchase.

The Optimal Planting Time: Autumn or Spring Planting?

Planting tip: Place bare-root woody plants in water for two to three hours before planting so that they can soak up a little. However, longer storage in water is not recommended. If intermediate storage is necessary, we recommend covering the root with a damp cloth or wrapping it in damp soil.
Balled plants

Balled plants are sold with a soil ball in the root area, which is usually held together with a baling cloth. Because of the root ball, they have a higher proportion of fine roots. As with bare-root plants, they are only sold during the dormant season, i.e. from October to April. The root ball improves the growing security, which is why this method is used for the somewhat more sensitive woody plants, for example conifers.
Container plants

Container plants can theoretically be planted all year round, which is not possible with balled and bare-root plants. It is therefore possible to plant container plants in summer. In principle, however, this does not fit in with the natural rhythm of life of the plants. Therefore, when planting in summer, you need to pay attention to a few things to ensure that the plants grow well. This includes, above all, a regular water supply throughout the summer.

The optimal planting time: autumn or spring?

For the vast majority of plants, the period of dormancy is the ideal planting time. Since periods when the ground is deeply frozen in many places are out of the question, two planting times crystallise: Autumn planting and spring planting. Autumn planting ranges from the end of September to the beginning of December and spring planting from the beginning of March to the end of April. In the meantime, however, climate change equally influences the planting time, so that in some regions planting would also be well possible in December, January and February.
Autumn planting time: advantages of autumn planting

The Optimal Planting Time: Autumn or Spring Planting?

Most woody plants lose their leaves in autumn and go into dormancy. This does not apply to the roots, as these are still active in autumn and winter and form new rootlets. The soil is still warm enough when you plant in autumn. By the time the first frosts set in, the plants have rooted themselves well in the new location. Therefore, a tree or shrub planted in autumn will be better supplied with water and nutrients when it sprouts in spring than when it is planted in spring. Autumn planting thus always has a better and faster start in any case, because here the natural growth rhythm of the plant is taken into account. In addition, a woody plant planted in autumn is much more stable during dry periods in the following year.

With regard to deciduous woody plants, autumn planting offers another advantage: since they do not have leaves to tend to, they need much less water than if they were planted in spring or summer. In addition, the water supply of the soil is much better in autumn and winter, which saves a lot of watering. To promote root growth well over the winter, you can mulch the root area of the planted trees or shrubs with autumn leaves. This protects against ground frost and also reduces water evaporation.

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Autumn planting is therefore ideal for all bare-root plants, for all deciduous woody plants and for most fruit trees and perennials. But for all these plants, spring planting in March or April is a possible alternative. Even if not all the advantages of autumn planting come into play here.

Planting time – exceptions for evergreen woody plants

Autumn is not always the best time to plant: evergreens such as conifers, cherry laurel, boxwood, holly or yew also need water in winter. If you plant them too late and the ground freezes shortly afterwards, they can no longer absorb water and dry out. You should therefore plant them in early autumn, i.e. in September. This way they can form enough new roots before the frost to guarantee the water supply. March and April are also good planting times for these plants.

Another exception are plants that are sensitive or somewhat frost-sensitive during the transplanting phase. These include peach, apricot, rhododendron, hydrangea or hibiscus, but also lavender, rosemary or sage. If possible, they should be planted in spring, i.e. at the beginning of April to the beginning of May. Frost-sensitive plants survive their first winter outdoors much better if you plant them in spring instead of autumn.

Don’t forget: All spring plantings require more care in terms of water supply. Long periods of drought can already occur in spring. And these plants also need increased attention in summer, which means that they should be watered regularly.

When is the best time to plant?

In the following table you will find plants and crops assigned to the respective optimal planting time.

Autumn plantingSpring plantingYear round planting
End of September until beginning of DecemberBeginning of March until end of AprilBeginning of March until beginning of December
Bare root plantsBare root plants (but preferably in autumn)Container plants
Balled plantsBalled plants 
All deciduous woody plantsAll evergreen shrubs (alternatively also planting in September) and frost-sensitive shrubs. 
Roses in mild locationsRoses in harsh locations with hard winters 
Stone and berry rustStone and berry fruit (but preferably in autumn) 
Hardy perennials  
Winter hardy bulbs  

Prepare the planting well during the planting season.

A sufficiently large planting hole is important for good success. It should be about twice as wide and deep as the root, root ball or pot. Dip container plants and root balls in a container of water for a few minutes before planting so that they can soak up the water. For container plants, score the root ball in various places if it is rooted at the edges. The best thing to do is to crumble up the excavated soil in a wheelbarrow and mix it with some compost. In this way, the novice gardener will have a good starting fertiliser. It is best to loosen the subsoil of the planting hole with a digging fork, as compacted soil makes rooting difficult. For trees, add a supporting stake to the planting hole.

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Now hold the plant in the planting hole and fill it up with soil. However, the plants may only be placed as deep in the soil as they were previously in the pot or in the nursery. Grafting points must definitely be above the soil surface. Now tread the soil carefully so that the roots make contact with the soil. Now water vigorously – really mud it – and in the following weeks make sure that the soil in the root area does not dry out. Do not forget to water regularly, especially when planting in spring.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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