When you think of the fall season most people think about Halloween, leaves changing color and Thanksgiving. Something that is also associated with fall is tree and shrub planting. Fall is the best time to plant trees and woody perennials. Fall offers mild temperatures, which makes it easier on the person planting as well as easier on the plant. During the fall less moisture is lost from the soil due to evaporation which means there is more moisture for the roots.
Most people plant trees for their aesthetic value such as pretty fall color, attractive blooms or showy bark. But trees offer so much more than just the aesthetic value. Trees attract wildlife, reduce utility bills, offer shade, filter the air, provide wind breaks, and screens. Regardless of the reason a tree is planted it is always important to choose the right plant for the right place. What does that mean? It means choosing a tree that fits the location (amount of shade or sun, soil conditions, adapted to the area), will provide the desired affect (bloom color, fall color, size). It doesn’t make any sense to plant a Red Oak between the sidewalk and the street, although it happens all the time! Also, a little time spent researching the plant can save time and money in the future. For instance, Bradford Pears and Leyland Cypress are no longer recommended. The Bradford Pear has extremely narrow branch-crotch angles which makes it prone to breaking. The Leyland Cypress is disease prone.
Once you determine the plants you want to plant, it is very important that the trees be planted correctly. Here are a few planting tips that will help get the plants off to a good start.
1. Make sure the site matches what the plant needs. Begin with the end in mind. Yes you may have bought a Sugar Maple in a 5 gallon pot, but the Sugar Maple is going to grow quite large. Make sure it will have the room it needs. If it doesn’t, plant something smaller.
2. Soil test – this will tell you if you need to amend the soil with lime and/or fertilizer.
3. Dig the hole at least twice as wide as the root-ball of the plant and no deeper than the root-ball. It could even be a little less.
4. When you place the plant in the hole, make sure and find what is referred to as the root flare. The root flare should be level with the soil surface or slightly above it.
5. If a tree is in a pot, the roots should be inspected closely to identify any root defects. Disturbing the roots and spreading them out will help to stop the root bound affect that occurs from being grown in a pot for many years. If the tree is a ball-and-burlap, the wire basket and as much of the burlap needs to be removed prior to backfilling the planting hole.
6. Filling in the planting hole, or backfilling, should be done with the same soil that was removed from the planting hole. Do not add organic matter which breaks down overtime and leaves voids in the soil causing roots to dry out. Also because organic matter creates such good growing conditions, roots tend to want to stay in the area and not spread out.
7. Once the tree is planted add a layer of mulch to the planting area. Three inches of mulch is plenty. Apply the mulchevenly and avoid piling it near the truck!
Once the tree is in the ground the only other step is watering. Newly planted trees will require routine watering to become established. The size of the tree and soil conditions will determine how much water is required. Heavy clay soils will require less water than a sandy soil. When watering it is better to water longer duration and less often; this promotes deeper rooting.
For more information on proper planting methods, plant selection or general tree info, please feel free to contact your local County Extension Office.
Chris Becker, Home Grounds Regional Extension Agent