Planting a tree in fall can be the appropriate time of year for many tree species. Provided the planter follows the appropriate technique, fall tree planting gives trees an excellent chance to survive and thrive the following spring. If you are considering planting a tree in fall, follow the tips outlined below for the best chance at success:
1) Ensure it is the proper time of year. Planting trees in fall is excellent because trees are entering a dormant state after the spring and summer growing season. Planting during this dormant state allows trees to recover more quickly from being moved around and to settle in before the next high growth phase in the spring. The ideal time for tree planting is early fall, while trees still have time to take root before the ground freezes for winter.
2) Choose the proper species of tree. While fall tree planting is appropriate for many types of tree species, it is suited to some better than others. It is best to avoid planting broad leaf evergreens, such as boxwoods, hollies, azaleas, and rhododendrons in the fall. Tree species that are ideal for fall tree planting include: elm, pine, spruce, maple, ash, crabapple, buckeye, sycamore, hawthorn, hackberry, horse chestnut, honey locust, amur corktree, linden, catalpa, and alder.
3) Consider environmental conditions when selecting the type of tree. Soil composition, sun exposure, temperature conditions, moisture levels, and personal preference in size/shape/color of trees all must be considered. Consult an expert at a nursery when deciding on trees to see which species are best suited for your specific conditions.
4) Be aware of the mature tree’s size and shape. Planting trees in fall can be fun; however, if you need to move the tree a few years down the road because you did not give adequate consideration to the mature tree’s dimensions, you will have a lot more work to do.
5) Test soil for drainage before planting your tree. To avoid root rot, fall tree planting should be done on a site with adequate drainage. Dig a hole and fill it with water. Check it in 24 hours and again in 48 hours; if the water drains adequately, the site should be able to support a tree.
6) Dig a planting hole 2 or 3 times larger than the tree’s root ball. The hole should be about as deep as the root ball; too deep, and the tree can settle as it is watered causing undue strain on the root system. Ideally, the tree will sit at the same depth or slightly higher than, it sat in the nursery field.
7) Mound up a small amount of soil at the bottom of your planting hole, and place your balled or burlapped tree on top of this mound. This will help ensure the tree does not settle too much as you water it. It is a good idea to loosen the root ball before placing it in the ground, freeing the roots to grow. If planting a bare root tree, take care not to twist or tangle the roots as you place the tree in the ground.
8) Refill the hole with the dirt you initially removed. There are different schools of thought as to what to add (or not add) to the soil; if you have selected the appropriate tree you should not need to add any organic material to this dirt. You want your tree to become used to the natural soil conditions as quickly as possible; adding organic material will delay your tree’s acclimation to its new home.
9) While organic material is not necessary for fall tree planting, proper soil pH is. Proper soil pH in the fall will encourage root growth and allow your tree to “set” before winter, increasing the tree’s chance of survival. Most gardening stores can test a sample for you, or sell easy home testing kits. Amend pH level by adding lime to raise pH as necessary.
10) Phosphate should also be added to the soil as you refill the planting hole. Phosphate does not move in soil and won’t reach your roots otherwise. Phosphate encourages root growth, and will allow your tree to flourish more quickly. It will also allow the roots to “set” more quickly helping it to survive the winter. Rock phosphate can be obtained at any gardening store.
11) While refilling the planting hole, gently tamp the soil to remove air pockets.Water deeply; continue give a deep weekly watering until winter sets in and the ground freezes.
Fall tree planting, for many species, allows trees to set during winter. When spring comes, they will be ready for the growing season; in the first spring they will strengthen more and take root better than trees planted in spring. Planting trees in the fall gives them an excellent chance to survive and flourish. Following the tips above will make your fall tree planting as successful as it can be.
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