KC Gardens

Fall tree and shrub planting

Newly planted sugar maple

Tip of the Week

The fall season is an excellent time to plant new trees and shrubs in the landscape. Fall planting allows for root development to occur prior to winter’s arrival. These fall roots help the plant become a little more established before the hot, dry conditions of next summer arrive.

The ideal time to plant in the fall is between early-September through the end of October. Planting later in November decreases the amount of root growth before the soil temperatures cool.

Planting in fall varies little from spring procedures. The most important step is to select the right plant for the right location. This will require 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 the need for future pruning.

The second most important step is the planting hole for trees and shrubs. It is often said, dig a hundred dollar hole for a twenty-five dollar plant. This is truer now than ever because of current research. It is better to dig the hole wider than deeper. Digging deeper than the root ball depth causes the plant to settle and sink. This settling results in an unhappy root system, often prone to decline in our heavy clay soils. Avoid planting the tree too deep. To do that, remove dirt from around the base of the tree, digging down until you find the first root that flares out of the young tree. The point where the root emerges from the base is the correct planting depth. That root 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 from the root ball. When backfilling, do not tamp the soil as this causes compaction and slows root growth. Instead, either lightly firm the soil or allow water to naturally settle the soil.

Once the tree or shrub is planted keep it moist. During winter the soil does not dry out as quickly as summer. Check the moisture level and water as needed throughout the entire winter. Dry soil conditions during winter are one of the main drawbacks to fall planting. We often forget to water during the cold of winter. Soil will absorb water unless it’s frozen. When watering, deeply soak the soil and allow it to dry before reapplying.

Normally, young trees and shrubs are not fertilized at the time of planting. Wait one growing season before applying the nutrients. The only exception would be a root starter type fertilizer. Establishing roots is more important in the early stages of growth than top growth.

Not all trees should be planted in the fall. Avoid fall planting in locations that are prone to excessive cold winter winds, poor soils or areas that cannot be watered. Trees and shrubs that tend to stress during Kansas City summers are also probably better planted in the spring than fall.

Take advantage of the fall season and add new trees and shrubs to the landscape. It is a great time to plant. But remember, care is just as important for planting success in the fall as it is in the spring.

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