I’ve been holding off until now to add several new trees and plants to my landscape.
Why have I been waiting? Because, without a doubt, fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs.
Simply put, the cooler air and warm soil temperatures of autumn make it the best time for new plantings to take hold.
Above ground, the cooler air is kinder to plant foliage, and it reduces the chances of an energy-zapping chain reaction throughout the rest of the plant.
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This is especially true for the ones that have just lost a major portion of their roots, which is typical in a transplanting situation.
Beneath the surface, soil temperatures are still warm, which creates an environment for new root growth.
In the fall, many plants and trees are entering a period of dormancy.
Without the need to allocate resources into foliage, plants now shift their energy into roots and storing nutrients and resources for the cool months ahead.
By spring, the result should be a well-established root system and plants that are better equipped to handle the demands of spring and summer.
Here are some additional tips to ensure success of all your fall transplants.
Prepare the planting hole. When preparing any hole for an incoming shrub or tree, make the hole two to three times wider than the current root mass, but don’t make it any deeper than where the plant was growing in its previous environment.
The truth is, even nurseries sometimes put plants in containers too deeply. Look for the flare of the trunk near the soil level. Don’t place the tree in the planting hole so deep that any part of that flair is covered with soil.
Plant high. I go even one step further by placing transplants in their new environment with up to a third of the root ball higher than the surrounding soil level. I then taper soil up to cover all the roots and add a generous layer of mulch above that.
Newly disturbed soil has a tendency to settle and plants growing below grade can easily succumb to root rot or disease. It’s better to plant a tree or shrub slightly high and allow the area to drain than for a plant to sit in a bowl and collect excess water.
Don’t amend the soil. Contrary to traditional planting methods, new research indicates you should not amend the hole with additional organic material. Roots that are growing in amended soil rarely venture into harder native soil. The long-term effect is a smaller root system, reduced growth and a less hardy plant.
Instead, break up any clumps in the existing soil, remove the rocks and backfill. Studies show that plant roots growing only in the native soil did a better job of establishing and expanding beyond the original hole.
Eliminate air pockets. Be sure to lightly tamp or hand-pack the soil around the plant roots to ensure good soil-to-root contact. I add water to the hole after backfilling halfway. It provides needed moisture, and also helps eliminate air pockets that could cause roots to die. Water again thoroughly once all remaining soil is in place.
Add mulch. About 3 inches of organic matter can include shredded leaves, ground bark or nuggets. Mulch helps retain moisture and keeps soil temperatures moderate.
Keep an eye on the watering. Winter conditions in some areas can be very dry, so water throughout the winter if necessary to prevent soil conditions from becoming too dry. Roots are still growing, and soil moisture is essential for proper establishment.