Fall Planting: Time for Trees and Shrubs

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When you think of planting and gardening, you may think of springtime when everything seems to be blooming and flourishing. But contrary to what it seems, fall is actually one of the best times to plant many trees and shrubs. Planting in the fall has quite a few unforeseen benefits:

1. Lack of leaves: Without leaves to support, trees and shrubs are able to grow stronger roots in the fall and early spring before leaves do actually begin to grow.

2. Better soil conditions: More rain and cooler soil make for a perfect combination of conditions for trees and shrubs to flourish.

3. Trees will be hardier: Heat and drought can wreak havoc on vegetation planted during the spring. By the time summer arrives, trees and shrubs planted in the fall will be able to withstand conditions that are more harsh. The general rule of thumb is to plant six weeks before a hard frost so they will be able to withstand the winter. But, some plants are more susceptible to damage during the winter months than others, so do your research before deciding what you will be planting. Some trees that are good for fall planting include ash, buckeye, maple, pine, spruce, and sycamore. The same is true for most deciduous shrubs.

How to Plant a Tree or Shrub

Step 1 - Find the Right Location

You don’t want to plant your tree or shrub just anywhere. Think about how big it will become and how far the roots will reach. Leave plenty of space for it to grow. Keep your tree away from your home, where limbs could fall on your house. Plant it far from your neighbor's yard, where it could encroach on their space. Shrubs are less of a worry, but still be mindful of the area you choose to plant it.

Step 2 - Dig a Hole

Planting a tree in a hole.

The hole should be two times the width of your tree or shrub’s container. The depth of the hole will depend on how tall the bundle of roots, or the root ball, is at the bottom. Make it so the root ball sticks out an inch above the ground, so the plant won’t sink too far in the ground when it's watered and settles.

Step 3 - Clean up the Root Ball

If your tree or shrub has been balled and wrapped in burlap, try to remove the material before planting it. If there is a wire cage, this should also be removed. This way, the roots have plenty of room to grow. It also keeps the burlap from rotting underground.

Step 4 - Mix Your Soil

When filling in the hole, you should use a blend of the original soil with some nutrient-rich gardening soil. The mix should be about 50-50.

Step 5 - Fill, Water, Fill, Water

Someone watering a newly planted tree.

Once half of the hole is filled, water the tree or shrub thoroughly, and then finish filling using your soil mixture. Water the area again with a slow stream of water. Plan to water 2-3 times a week during the fall.

Step 6 - Top Off With Mulch

Add a layer of mulch to the top, keeping it away from the trunk. This layer will help to insulate the tree or shrub from harsh temperatures. It will also keep the soil moist near the tree or shrub.

Other Tips

  • Avoid using chemicals or fertilizer on young trees or shrubs. They can easily be killed by either substance.

  • Beware of sun scald. This is when the tree bark is thawed during a winter day, then quickly freezes at night, which damages the trunk and can keep the tree from getting water to the top. Prevent this phenomena by wrapping the at-risk tree with crepe paper.

  • Some trees can also get winter-burned, where they are damaged from the winter winds, which also affects water absorption. You can avoid this problem by building a barrier using stakes and burlap.