STILLWATER – The fall season is a great time to decorate the landscape with pumpkins and mums or to take a leisurely drive to check out the changing colors of the leaves on the trees. It also is a good opportunity to plant new trees and shrubs.
“Some people may prefer to postpone planting until after the first of the year, but fall offers some advantages to getting those trees and shrubs in the ground now,” said David Hillock, Oklahoma State University Extension consumer horticulturist.
Roots grow when the soil temperature is above 40 degrees. The root systems of fall-planted trees and shrubs will have an opportunity to develop and become established if planted now. Hillock said that when spring arrives with warmer temperatures, an expanded root system that was established in the fall can better support and take advantage of the growth surge.
“Balled and burlapped plants can be planted now so they have time to recover from transplanting and proliferate roots before the spring growing season begins,” he said. “However, not all trees and shrubs should be planted at this time. Wait to plant bare root plants in late winter when they’re completely dormant.”
In order to give the tree or shrub the best chance at survival, proper planting is a must. Dig a hole at least two times wider, but not deeper than the root ball. Homeowners who are dealing with heavy, poorly drained soils should plant the tree so the top of the root ball is just above the level of the surrounding soil. This allows for settling and increases soil drainage and available oxygen to the roots.
Hillock said to fill the hole using only the soil that was removed when digging and pat it down around the plant. Water thoroughly to settle the soil and eliminate air pockets.
“A thorough watering every seven to 10 days increases your chances of planting success. Avoid overwatering to reduce the chances of root rot,” he said. “Overwatering is usually the number one reason why trees and shrubs fail.”
Although it is tempting, do not fertilize the tree or shrub immediately after planting. Wait until spring, and even then, do so lightly. A heavy application of fertilizer may burn or injure the root system, which could result in the tree or shrub dying.
As a final touch, add several inches of mulch around the base of the newly planted trees and shrubs. This will help conserve soil moisture, as well as help cut down on weed growth.
“Trees and shrubs are a great addition to a landscape. In fact, when done properly, they can increase your property value,” Hillock said. “Take some time to visit your local garden store or nursery to see what is available.”
Check out OSU Extension’s Tree Planting Guide for more information or this segment of Oklahoma Gardening.