House & Home

Fall is the best time to plant and nurture trees, but don’t make these mistakes

In fall, it’s all about the root growth, not the top growth for trees.
In fall, it’s all about the root growth, not the top growth for trees. Kansas State University Research and Extension

Trees planted in the fall get a jump on stressful summer conditions because they are able to grow roots long into the cooler season. This added root growth helps them withstand the unpredictable conditions of summer. But proper care is important for survival and success.

The earlier planted the better to provide longer time for developing roots. In fall it’s all about the root growth, not the top growth.

The tree may appear dormant as the leaves fall off, but there is activity below ground. Soils are still warm and moist from summer, ideal for excessive root growth. It is this growth, which can continue to develop deep into November, that makes fall an ideal time to plant.

Success involves more than timing. It starts with selecting the right tree for the location.

Purchasing a tree should not be an impulsive decision. It should be based on need and space. A poor tree decision will lead to a number of issues down the road and become a costly mistake, not to mention the emotional loss of the tree.

Look around, look up, down and in all directions. Are there overhead wires? Underground utilities? Structures that impede the spread?

A visual inspection helps decide not only where to locate the tree, but what size and shape of tree is best suited for the landscape. Never plant a tree directly over buried cables or choose one that will grow into power lines.

I hate to burst your bubble, but there is no such thing as the perfect tree. Every tree has its strengths and weaknesses.

They all drop leaves, shed twigs, have fruit or some other less-than-desirable trait. Your favorite tree may not even fit the planting area. Tree shopping is a process of elimination.

Everyone wants a big tree immediately. That is not possible. Trees take time to grow.

There is an old saying, “The best time to plant a tree was 10 years ago. The second best time is today.” In our quest for that large specimen we sometimes fall for the promise of quick growth.

Unfortunately the best trees are not always the fastest growing. As a rule, the faster the growth rate, the shorter the life span and the more the issues. Fast-growing trees are often weak-wooded, which means they are the first to fail in a wind or ice storm.

For recommended landscape trees in the Kansas City region, visit and click on Land & Garden/ Publications & Videos.

Dennis Patton is a horticulture agent with Kansas State University Research and Extension. Got a question for him or other university extension experts? Email them to