Fall is an excellent time to plant new trees and shrubs. Fall planting allows for root development to occur prior to winter’s arrival and those roots help the plant become a little more established before the hot, dry conditions of summer arrive.
The ideal time to plant is between early-September through the end of October. Planting later decreases the amount of root growth before the soil cools. Planting in fall varies little from spring procedures. Most important is to select the right plant for the right location. This requires research before heading to the nursery to pick out the plant.
Know the height, spread and shape of the plant that is needed in the landscape. Always plan for the mature size of the plant, not what you see in the garden center. This prevents plants from overtaking the allotted space and reduces pruning.
The planting hole for trees and shrubs is important. It is better to dig the hole wider than deeper. Digging deeper than the height of the root ball causes the plant to settle, resulting in an unhappy root system prone to decline in our heavy clay soils.
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Dig down in the root ball, whether it’s balled and burlapped or in a container, and find the first root of the young tree. The point where the root emerges from the base is called the root flare. This is the correct planting depth. That root flare should be placed just below the soil surface, lightly covered.
The width of the planting hole should be 2 to 5 times the diameter of the root ball. This loose soil around the root ball allows for quick root growth into the soil. When backfilling the hole do not tamp the soil as this causes compaction and slows root growth. Either lightly firm the soil or allow water from the hose to naturally settle the soil.
Once the tree or shrub is planted keep it moist. Though the soil does not dry out as quickly in the winer as it does in the summer, dry soil conditions during winter are one of the main drawbacks to fall planting. We often forget to water during the cold of winter. When watering, deeply soak the soil and allow it to dry before watering again.
Typically young trees and shrubs are not fertilized at the time of planting. Wait one growing season before applying the nutrients, though you could use a root starter.
Establishing roots is more important for newly planted trees and shrubs than top growth.
Not all trees should be planted in the fall. Oaks and rebuds come to mind. Also, avoid fall planting in locations that are prone to excessive cold winter winds or areas that cannot be watered. Trees and shrubs that tend to stress during Kansas City summers are probably better planted in the spring than fall.
Take advantage of the fall season and add new trees and shrubs to the landscape. But remember, care is important for success just as it is in the spring.
Dennis Patton is a Johnson County Extension horticulture agent. To get your gardening questions answered by him, go to kcgardens.kansascity.com.