Tips for Fall Tree and Shrub Planting

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Cool weather is an excellent time to plant new trees and shrubs in the landscape. Most garden centers will be reducing their remaining stocks to clear space for Christmas trees and other seasonal plants. What better time to find the trees and shrubs we want to put in our gardens.

I’m looking for a particular late blooming hydrangea that my wife has fallen in love with. She loves the late flowers and the color. It seemed to be one of the more popular plants at the garden center this year, but I didn’t have time to purchase one and plant it for her, so I’ll make my rounds to see if I can find a garden center that still has one in stock.

Planting in the fall allows the roots of the plant to begin getting established in the soil while the top of the plant is dormant. In the case of the hydrangea and other deciduous plants, there won’t be any leaves to draw the moisture and nutrients away from the roots, so the roots can use all the energy they need to slowly grow out into the surrounding soil.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking the plant won’t need to be watered. If we go through a dry spell, water will still need to be added to the soil to keep the plant from drying out. However, many deciduous plants don’t like to be in wet or soggy soil especially during the winter, so only water if it’s been two or three weeks since a good rain.

When putting the container in the ground, here are a few tips for successful planting. First, when the plant is removed from the container, if the roots are growing in circles around the container, cut them up or tease them out so they don’t continue to grow in circles.

Next, don’t dig the hole any deeper than the depth of the plant in the container. When placing the plant in the hole, the top of the root ball (the soil in the container) should be at the same height or slightly higher than the soil surrounding the planting hole. Planting too deep can cause some issues with the plant not receiving enough water or oxygen from the surrounding soil.

When backfilling the hole, it is a good idea to water the soil every time you have added four to six inches of soil into the hole. This helps to settle the soil in tightly as you fill rather than stomping or tamping to try and pack the soil in when the hole is filled. This also makes sure the plant is getting watered really well as it gets settled into its new location.

Mulching is also a good idea, but don’t pile too much mulch around the base of the plant. A two-inch layer of mulch will be enough to keep the weeds down and the moisture in.