Q: Is fall the right time to plant trees?
A: Yes, it is! Trees and shrubs should be planted in the fall after they have become dormant — typically in early November — or in the spring before new growth appears around late March. In the Pacific Northwest, fall is especially good for planting trees because of our cool, rainy weather.
Do as much preparation as possible before the plants are purchased or delivered, including preparing your planting pits.
Be ready with shovels, water, fertilizer and backfill. This will allow you to complete the operation as quickly as possible, which gives the plants a much better chance of surviving.
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Keep in mind that planting large trees and shrubs will require more than one person. The basic rule of thumb: If you can’t easily carry it, you shouldn’t attempt to plant it alone.
There’s an adage about tree planting that still holds true: It is better to plant a 25-cent tree in a two-dollar hole than a two-dollar tree in a 25-cent hole.
Your planting pit should be dug at least a foot wider than the tree’s earth ball or the spread of bare roots. Make sure it is at least 6 inches deeper than the earth ball and two to three feet deep for bare root plants.
The planting pit should be dug with vertical sides, and with the center slightly raised to aid in draining excess moisture away from the plant.
Good drainage is essential, so test your pit before planting by filling it with water. If the water drains out within six to eight hours you should have no problem. But if the water is still standing after that time, you may need to invest in artificial drainage.
Your backfill or planting soil should be of equal or better quality than the soil in which your plant originally grew. It should include equal parts organic matter, coarse sand and topsoil. Make sure your backfill is easily workable and free of debris.
One common reason that plants fail to live is that they were set too deeply in their planting pits. This causes plants to suffocate because sufficient air does not reach the root system.
Balled and burlapped or container-grown plants should be planted so that the earth ball rests 1 to 2 inches above the soil level. This allows the plant to settle to the proper depth.
Apply mulch around the plant to protect the roots. There is no need to remove the burlap because it will rot away soon. Just loosen it from around the trunk. Remove any rope or wire that could girdle the stem or restrict growth.
Bare-root trees and shrubs should be planted at the depth in which they originally grew. You can usually tell what that level is by looking for a “collar” marking at the base of the stem or trunk and use that as your guideline.
Remember, newly planted trees and shrubs require more water than older, established plants. They should be watered thoroughly once a week for at least the first year and fertilized with superphosphate at the time of planting to stimulate root growth.
An employee at your nursery can offer pointers on watering and fertilization for your specific plant varieties, and whether or not staking may be necessary.
HomeWork is the weekly column by the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties’ Remodelers Council about home care, repair and improvements. If you have questions about home improvement, send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.