Why fall is the best time to plant trees
Plus, 5 tips to ensure a healthy tree for years to come.
Simply stated, if you want to give your plants the best chance of thriving in the landscape by next spring, plant them in the fall.
There are several good reasons for this timeframe.
First, this season offers the maximum amount of time for new trees and plants to settle in before the heat and stress of next summer.
Second, above ground, the cooler air is kinder to plant foliage and reduces the chances of an energy-zapping chain reaction throughout the rest of the plant. And, beneath the surface, soil temperatures are still adequately warm, which provides an excellent environment to stimulate and foster new root growth.
So, collectively, it’s the cooler air and warm soil temperatures of autumn that make for the best combination for establishment. And, let’s face it; nobody wants to be doing this in the heat of the summer or the cold of the winter.
Finally, in the fall, many plants and trees are entering a period of dormancy. Without the need to allocate plant resources to developing foliage and fruits, plants can now shift their energy into root system development and the storing of nutrients and resources for the cool months ahead.
Tips for successful planting
What’s really fun is to let your kids and/or grandkids in on the act. Consider how rewarding it would be if they actually got to pick out a tree or shrub — with some level of parental guidance — help plant it, nurture it along and watch it grow into a mature landscape specimen. Can you think of a more rewarding experience to share with your offspring?
Dig the planting hole two to three times the diameter of the tree’s root ball and no deeper than the root ball itself. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but it is an essential step to helping the plant’s root system adapt to its new surroundings.
The best backfill around a new tree or shrub is the native soil itself to allow the tree to adapt more quickly and easily. If you wish to add soil amendments such as compost, add no more than 50 percent of the backfill volume.
Ideally, young trees and shrubs should be lightly fertilized several times from March through July rather than at the time of fall planting. This encourages active growth during the warmer months.
Young plantings should be watered with an equivalent of 1 inch or more per week. More might be necessary in extremely hot, dry and/or windy weather.
Maintain a 4- to 6-foot, grass-free circle around young trees and shrubs. Each year thereafter, apply 2 to 4 inches of organic mulch, such as leaf mold, compost, pine bark, grass clippings or straw. Do not mound mulch upwards around the tree trunk as this invites diseases into the trunk system.
To keep young trees upright, stake only as needed using softer materials around the trunk and limbs to avoid damage. After about a year, remove the stake(s) and let the tree develop its own structural strength.