overwintering dormant trees in pots

katrina1(OK)December 10, 2008

I have some apple, cherry, and Frans Fontain hornbeam trees that I got in bare root form earlier in the year. I potted them up to let their fine feeder roots better develop. This fall I did not want to plant the in the ground.

Will it hurt them if I plant them in the ground now? They are dormant, and the ground is not frozen yet. I have been bringing them into the garage to keep the roots from freezing in the pots on each day/night that our temps drop below freezing?

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Depending on how much work it would be I would dig holes and set the whole pot in the ground. If the pots are large you could just put leaves or mulch around them.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 3:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hi l_james,
at North Greece now is the best time to buy bare roots apple, cherry trees and planting them at ground, roots grow better with winter rains, cold-snow and freezing they don't harm them.
About Frans Fontain hornbeam tree, sorry, I can't translate in Greek language, so I can't inform you.
from Athens-Greece

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 4:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if clay soil.. i would never dig a cauldron and put a pot into it in late fall ....

if not clay ... i have done such ...

there is no reason to not heal them in.. consistent with the other post .... with or without the pots ... i have done it both ways... on pure fast draining sand

but would prefer no pot.. frankly .... with a dormant plant ... no pot is necessary ... just pull it out... place it in the hole ... and loosely refill ... the dormant plant will be exactly the same come early spring .... i would NOT go root pruning or untangling... it can be put right back into the pot when you dig it out in spring ... or late winter ...

we are just using ma earth to 'hold' them until proper planting.. when proper planting techniques can be used ...

the biggest problem with black pots in winter.. is that ambient sun.. can warm the blackness.. and thaw the media.. and bring a plant into an active growth cycle.. in the dead of winter.. that isnt good..

ANYTHING you do.. to avoid such is the remedy ... and up here.. avoiding water ....ice accumulation in the pot is second problem ... but i bet you wont have that problem...

so all you might need to do... is place your pots on the north side of a structure.. so the pots stay out of the sun.. or any other way you solve that problem ...

my experience is z5 MI .... i doubt that the methods would vary wildly for your zone...

good luck


    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 11:04AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Thanks: too many for the covering the pots idea, so I guess I will simply try to plant them; especially since I do not want to have to repot them, and because their rootballs probably developed nicely over this last growing season.

The soil at my house is clay with only about a foot of good top soil. The house where I want to plant these is small and next year I will probably move there. That house has very fast draining soil, and at the place where I want to plant the hornbeam trees, there is a neighbor's invading roots from a huge multi trunked Silver Maple tree that gobbles up all the soil nutrients and much of the moisture. I guess planting these trees there now in the beginning of winter, will be fine since they will not have to be tended as often as they will need when growing season returns.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 12:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if possible... get a small load of wood chip mulch.... and just group the pots.. and pile mulch to cover the pots to about 3 inches above.. without it being too high on the trunks ...

this would:

remove sun on pots..

temper the pots the the vagaries of winter temp spikes

decrease loss of moisture ...

and you will be able to use the mulch in your garden in spring ...

or .. just put them in the garage and keep the door closed ....


    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 3:13PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

There is nothing about their remaining in pots that is somehow better for them than just being in the ground. Whatever you decide, do take into consideration the appetites of various browsing and gnawing creatures. They will home in on your new stuff as if by radar.


    Bookmark   December 10, 2008 at 3:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Okay, made up my mind. I'm planting outside the dormant Franz Fontaine Hornbeams, today. But plan on keeping the dormant Fuji apple, Northstar cherry, and Golden delicious apple trees potted-up and in my darkened garage until just after April 15, 2009.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2008 at 10:28AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

It may very well be much too warm in your garage to keep them dormant. Freezing is a non-issue. If frozen roots killed plants we would be living in a desert. Too warm is going to be a much bigger problem. Ideally, the storage space stays around freezing, without getting much warmer than say 40°F. Occasional excursions warmer than that are unavoidable, but if normal winter temperatures in the garage are much higher than 40, this just isn't going to work.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2008 at 1:58PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Key points:

1. Don't disturb the roots too much as they're dormant. You could cause disruption by planting them now if they're rather small. Is the trunk of a relatively sturdy caliper? You can go by this. However if the root ball is pretty entact and stays entact and compact and retains all the soil when you pull it out of the pot, I would just plant as is.

2. Insulate with mulch or hay if you're keeping them in containers.

3. Out of DIRECT sun if possible.

Other than that, I wouldn't sweat it too much. Only so much you can do. I got pretty neurotic about how to over-winter metasequoias and realized that after you've taken consideration of everything that could mess things up for a "sleeping" plant (i.e. root disturbance, completely drying out, etc.) there's only so much that you can do afterwards.

Good luck.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2008 at 2:20PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Ooh Stiffy, on Saturday before seeing your post about not disturbing the roots, I planted the dormant Hornbeam trees. They are almost 6 feet tall and have thin, maybe 1/2 inch trunks. After reading your advice, I now am concerned that I may have done the wrong thing by shaking off all the potting soil of the roots just prior to planting them in hole I dug. I always thought that as long as the tree is dormant the roots can be safely uncover for a short time as long as they are not allowed to become too dry.

It is a good thing that I did not keep these trees in their pots outside, because during the last two days southern winds blew into the area, and high temps for first day rose to about 58 degrees F. and yesterday rose to 75 degrees F. by 4 pm. but then a cold front blew in and by 6pm the temps had dropped to freezing. Now early on Monday morning the temps have dropped to 16 degrees F.

Yuk, I certainly am glad I have kept the dormant fruit trees in my insulated garage, and did not put the 5 gallon potted sized hornbeams outside without first planting them in the soil.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 5:19AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
lou_midlothian_tx(z8 DFW, Tx)

Do i need to give everything some water? I noticed that the container mix is a little dry esp in 1g size. Is dry freeze worse than mix turning into ice? It's already freezing and may only warm up to mid 30s tomorrow for high.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 5:15PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo


I have often seen it suggested that the watering of the soil needs to be done a day or two prior to the freeze; that way the soil has a chance to absorb moisture but drain off enough to prevent a soggy condition that will create ice forming in the soil or in contact with the roots.

Yes dry conditions are hard on plants and trees when they are encountering freezing temps, but the freezing time is not the best time to water: that is unless your soil temps are remaining well above freezing and if the soil also drains so well that there is not a risk of the water to freeze within the soil around the roots.

Are you able to cover your containers and protect them from the coldest overnight temps; or even move them into the garage or other protected area where you could water them without the threat of the water freezing before the soil could become moistened from absorbing well the water.

One other thing to consider is, are the items in your pots dormant already before the freeze hit, if not, do not water them, because the water your items take up; especially if the sap is still abundant in the trunks. These will generally experience the same conseqences of pipes which are frozen in a home. Once those frozen pipes are thawed too quickly they burst. Same thing happens to the trunks of young non-dormant trees and shrubs which freeze; sap expands quickly and breaks through the cell walls in the young trunks or stems. The plant taking up water just prior to freezing worsens this affect.

Our local nurseries often encounter this problem in the early spring if temps have risen enough to encourage breaking of dormancy, and then often a sudden late freeze follows so quickly that the tree or shrub does not get the right amount of time and environment to once again drop it's sap's upward flow.

Some local nurseries in my area have often lost many potted plant, trees and shrubs at such times.

    Bookmark   December 15, 2008 at 9:33PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Not sure about frequency of watering. I would guess ice in the ground does not have too much effect on roots, as no doubt the ground freezes about a foot deep and things still come back to life. I do know that the strongest drying effect comes from the already dry air in winter in most parts of the country plus the harsh winds. Dry, fast-moving air moving over stomata or other porous openings in plant tissue will really dry out a plant, of course if it's deciduous this will not be a problem. Evolution took care of that and dropped those leaves for that reason.

I would say cover the thing with mulch, insulate it, and leave it alone.

The stuff I said about not messing with the roots comes partially from things I've been told by mentors and partially from my own experience with bare-root plantings in fall of metasequoia and getting dieback on entire top halfs of the seedling. Roots are delicate things and are not meant to be moved like above-ground tissues such as branches and shoots do in the wind/due to animal movement, etc... Root hairs get broken/dry out, etc. and all of this will cause some part of dieback on the corresponding top part of the plant. This is why you want to disturb the root ball as little as possible and at least be as gentle as possible. With compact rootballs or plugs it is not so much of a problem as with bareroot as you are not as actively disturbing the roots. Messing with the roots can be especially problematic in winter as the plant is not actively growing and cannot immediately heal itself.

    Bookmark   December 16, 2008 at 4:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

The four Frans Fontaine hornbeams I planted had not been growing in the pots long enough to become root bound or to even become encircled in the pot; that is, other than the slightest amount just around the very bottom of the pot.

The potting soil dropped out of the rootball very easily without using the kind of force which would damage the roots. Then even on the ones which needed for some of the roots to be untangled so they would be spread outward, in the planting hole, untangled easily enough that afterward I did not see any damage to the roots at all. So if what the mentors told you is correct, I can at least, thankfully, feel a little better about my choice to bareroot those trees just prior to the time I put them in the hole and backfilled the dirt over them.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2008 at 1:47AM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
2015 Midatlantic/SE/New England winter damage thread
I don't mean to exclude the midwest but I think for...
davidrt28 (zone 7)
Does anyone on here have a Cercis canadensis - Eastern Redbud Tree?
I want to get a couple of them. Are they wind tolerant?...
Tree Planted Too Deep - Too Late To Raise
Hi all, I've been searching for some guidance on this...
Prunus mume are blooming in the South.
Pictures taken on February 3, 2015 at Wuhan (capital...
Just bought a house. Need help identifying trees!
Hello all, I have no real knowledge of tree types and...
Sponsored Products
Range Kleen Enameled Black Bookshelf Pot Rack
Tall Cottage Chic Sideboard & Bookshelf
| Dot & Bo
KOHLER Kitchen Iron/Tones Smart Divide Dual Mount Cast Iron 33x18.75x9.625
Home Depot
Safavieh Area Rug: Anatolia Ivory/Brown 9' x 12'
Home Depot
Round Flower Dish
$12.99 | zulily
Hammered Polished Copper Hose Pot - Without Lid
Signature Hardware
Weathered Wedgewood Blue One-Light Ginger Jar Pot Table Lamp with Yarn Tie and S
$200.95 | Bellacor
Brushed Nickel Whitehaus WHPF0501 Deck Mount Straight Spout Pot Filler
$389.00 | Blue Bath
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™