MILWAUKEE, Wis. – One of the most critical resources for self-reliance is natural food production. And, if you’re thinking about planting a tree that bears fruit or nuts to keep your cupboards stocked, now is the time to get busy.
For those living in the South, you don’t need an expert to tell you that cooler temperatures make the work of planting easier, however you may not know that fall and winter planting also is better for the trees too.
Dan Gill, a horticultural expert at the Louisiana State University Agricultural Center and gardening writer for the New Orleans Times-Picayune newspaper, says “Horticulturists know that the cool season, October through March, is the ideal time for planting hardy trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers in the landscape.”
Advantages of Fall Planting
According to Gill’s piece on the subject, “planting hardy trees and shrubs in the fall, from mid-November through mid-December, is especially good, as they benefit in several ways. The plants are going dormant, or are dormant, during this time and are less likely to suffer as much from transplant shock (even those that bloom in winter).”
And though the tops are dormant, the roots of trees and shrubs will actively grow during the fall and early winter — although the weather is cooler, the soil is still warm from summer.
Compared with planting trees and shrubs in the spring, planting in fall allows them to become better established before spring growth and the intense heat of summer.
By May of next year, trees and shrubs planted over the next six weeks will have grown roots out into the surrounding soil, increasing their ability to absorb water and survive that first stressful summer after planting.
Another expert, Melinda Myers, agrees that planting at the right time is important for the tree and your pocketbook.
“Whether planting a tree to add seasonal beauty, grow backyard fruit, provide a bit of shade, or reduce energy costs, it’s a big upfront investment,” says gardening author Myers.
She suggests protecting your investment by following these steps for proper planting and care.
Finding the Best Location
Myers advises planters to select a tree suited to the growing conditions of the location you choose. Make sure it tolerates the sunlight, soil and temperature extremes that accompany the spot you desire.
Also, check the tag for the mature height and spread. If the space you set aside is right for the tree you want, the end result is a good-looking plant and minimal pruning.
More importantly, according to Gill:
Planting a tree that will grow too large for its location is one of the most common mistakes people make (along with planting too many trees, or planting them too close to the house or concrete surfaces).
Generally, small trees grow from 15 to 25 feet tall, medium-sized trees grow from 30 to 55 feet and large trees grow 60 feet or taller.
Think about the purpose of the tree and why it is needed. This will help you determine where the tree should be planted and what characteristics the tree should have, such as its shape, size and rate of growth.
Other Tree Choice Considerations
Gill offers other key points when picking a tree:
Trees either retain their foliage in winter (evergreen) or drop their leaves in the fall and winter (deciduous). In situations where you want shade in summer and sun in winter (shading your home or patio), choose deciduous trees. Small- to medium-size evergreen trees are useful as sound barriers or privacy screens.
Choose trees that are well-adapted to our local growing conditions. Many northern species you might see in catalogs are unsuitable for the Deep South.
Check the location of overhead power lines, and if you must plant under them, use small, low-growing trees. Also consider walks, drives and other paved surfaces that may be damaged by the roots of large trees. Locate large trees at least 15 feet away from paved surfaces and your house.
Simple Steps for the Actual Planting
Myers said that when you plant it correctly, you ensure the tree thrives for many years to come.
- Dig a saucer shaped hole three to five times wider than the root ball. It should only be as deep as the distance from the root flare to the bottom of the root ball. The root flare, where the roots bend away from the trunk, should always be at or slightly above the soil surface.
- Set the tree in the hole, then peel back and cut away any burlap and wire cages. These can eventually constrict root growth.
- Roughen the sides of the hole and backfill with the existing soil.
- Water thoroughly at planting to moisten the roots and surrounding soil.
- Proper watering is key to success. Continue to water thoroughly whenever the top few inches of soil are crumbly and moist.
- Sufficient watering, especially during the first two years, is critical for establishing trees. Watering thoroughly as needed encourages deep roots and a more drought-tolerant and pest-resistant tree.
More on The Root Ball
Gill offered additional tips:
A rootball tightly packed with thick encircling roots indicates a root-bound condition (caused by growing in a container at the store). Try to unwrap or open up the root ball to encourage the roots to spread into the surrounding soil.
Place a balled and burlapped tree gently in the hole with the burlap intact, then pull out nails, remove any nylon twine or wire supports, and fold down the burlap from the top of the root ball.
The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. It is essential that you do not plant the tree too deep.
Thoroughly pulverize the soil dug out from the hole and use this soil – without any additions – to backfill around the tree. Add the soil until the hole is about half full. Firm the soil to eliminate air pockets, but do not pack it tight. Finish filling the hole, firm again, and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in.
Generally, do not fertilize a newly planted tree. The use of a root stimulator solution is optional.
Help the Young Tree Mature
Melinda Myers, a gardening expert of more than 30 years, says the work you do after planting the tree can be the most important.
Mulch the soil surface.
- Add a two- to three-inch layer of woodchips or shredded bark to conserve water, suppress weeds and improve the soil as it decomposes.
- Pull the mulch back from the trunk of the tree to avoid disease problems.
Pruning and fertilization.
- Prune out any broken or rubbing branches and remove any tags that can eventually girdle the tree.
- Wait a year to fertilize and two years, once the tree is established, for additional pruning.
Continue providing tender loving care for at least the first two years. Make regular checkups. Prune to create a strong structure. Keep grass, weeds and lawn care equipment away from the trunk throughout the tree’s lifetime.
These efforts deliver years of beauty, shade, and for some, bushels of fresh fruit.
She also recommends a product like the GreenWell water saver (above)**. It concentrates the water where it is needed during the critical root establishment phase.
It also holds the mulch in place, and prevents weed whips and mowers from damaging the tree.
Whether you like this product, or a different version, maybe even one you build yourself, the concept is sound. Anything that promotes focused watering and offers protection from weed eaters, lawnmowers and weeds is critical for the life of a young sapling and a mature tree.
To Stake or Not
Finally, from Dan’s article, the age old question of staking a tree:
Stake trees tall enough to be unstable; otherwise it’s not necessary.
Two or three stakes should be firmly driven into the ground just beyond the root ball. Tie cloth strips, old nylon stockings or wire to the stakes and then to the trunk of the tree (cover wire with a piece of garden hose where it touches the trunk). Leave the support in place no more than nine to 12 months.
You should keep the area two feet out from the trunk mulched and free from weeds and grass. This encourages the tree to establish faster by eliminating competition from grass roots. It also prevents lawn mowers and string trimmers from damaging the bark at the base of the tree. This can cause stunting or death.
The mulch should be about 2 inches deep and pulled back slightly from the base of the tree.
Dan Gill is an associate professor in Consumer Horticulture with the LSU AgCenter, a position he has held since 2001. He earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in horticulture from Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge.
Dan is author of “Month-by-Month Gardening in Louisiana.” He is a co-author of the “Louisiana Gardener’s Guide,” Month-by-Month Gardening in Texas” and “Texas Gardener’s Resource.” His “Only in Louisiana” column appears monthly in the Louisiana Gardener Magazine. His articles also appeared nationally in Fine Gardening Magazine.
Myers authored more than 20 gardening books, including “Small Space Gardening,” and her latest educational offering is The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” DVD series. She also has a nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio segments. Myers’ columns can be found in Birds & Blooms magazine.
**[Editor’s Note: Paratus Business News currently has no affiliate relationships with the sources of this story or with any retailers selling the products mentioned.]