KC Gardens

Plant trees and shrubs this fall

Planting a tree

Tip of the Week

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

The ideal time to plant in the fall is between early September and the end of October. Planting later into November decreases the amount of root growth before the soil cools.

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 a nursery pot. This prevents plants from overtaking the allotted space and reduces maintenance such as pruning.

The planting hole for trees and shrubs is very important. It is often said, “Dig a hundred dollar hole for a twenty-five dollar plant.” This is truer now than ever because of the recent industry research. It is better to dig the hole wider than deeper. Don’t dig the hole too deep. Digging deeper than the root ball depth causes the plant to settle. This settling results in an unhappy root system prone to decline in our heavy clay soils.

Pull away the soil from the top of the container or root ball until you see the roots that flare away from the trunk. This is called the root flare. That’s your planting depth. Set the plant in the center of the hole with the root flare visible and located at, or slightly above, existing ground level. The root flare should never be below ground level.

The width of the planting hole should be two to five 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 stomp the soil — this causes compaction and slows root growth. Lightly firm the soil, or use the garden hose to water the plant in 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. Remember, the 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 full 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 a young pant than trying to promote top growth.

Not all trees should be planted in the fall. Avoid fall planting in locations exposed to excessive cold winter winds or cannot be watered. Trees and shrubs that tend to stress during Kansas City summers are also probably better planted in the spring because they will receive more attention and care during the warm season months.

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 success as it is in the spring.


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