Time to Plant a Tree: Fall Is Ideal for Growing New Foliage

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Photo credit: Neslihan Gunaydin via Unsplash

Spring has the reputation of being prime planting season. It’s when we’re antsy to shed our winter clothes and get outside and dig. We want to see signs of life in the form of colorful blooms, shiny green leaves and ripening fruit. This was even more true in 2020, when many of us spent our quarantine days buying seedlings on our trips to essential businesses and using our downtime to get them in the ground.

But, in truth, the fall is a great time to plant bushes and trees. If you missed out on that spring productivity – or just want to extend your gardening season – you can pick up the shovel right now. Plant your tree while the ground is soft and there’s time for it to establish during a long winter’s rest. Fortuitously, fall generally avoids the hot temperatures that can stress new plants.

This season isn’t just for planting new trees; it is a good time to replant, too. If there is a boxwood or a burning brush that isn’t where you want it – maybe it’s blocking a window or butting up against another plant better suited for that spot – this is the time to find it somewhere else to live.

Here’s what to consider before you plant in autumn:

Do your research.

Look into how tall and wide that tree will be when it is grown. Will it block light? Will it frame a window? Will it interfere with the power lines? Will it be too close to the side of the house? Dogwood, pawpaw and redbud trees tend to grow no more than 30 feet tall. A sycamore or Southern magnolia may reach 70 feet or taller.

See more: 4 Tips for a Flavorful Fall Vegetable Garden

Check your soil.

Make sure you have fertile, well-draining soil (if you’re not certain, do a pH test and a drainage test by timing how long it takes for water in a hole to seep through). Then, modify your dirt before you dig.

Water wisely.

You may want to water before winter sets in. Remember, a nice long, deep soak is better for root health than shallow, infrequent watering. If you are planting an evergreen (rather than a species that goes into a winter’s slumber), you will want to continue to water through the winter. After the initial planting and watering, you can let deciduous trees go until spring.

See more: Gardening Tips for Fall

How Best to Plant a Tree

When you dig a hole for a new tree, you will probably need to make it wider than you think – but not as deep. In general, it should be two to three times wider than the root ball and deep enough to cover the roots, but don’t bury the root collar. The base where the trunk widens should be aboveground. If it isn’t, and your tree trunk is straight like an electric pole, it might be too deep.

Next, spread mulch on the ground about 3 to 4 inches thick to insulate the roots from freezing and reduce weeds. Be careful not to get too close to the tree trunk or cover up that root collar. Too much mulch in too close proximity creates an environment where pests thrive but plants don’t.

Margaret Littman is a freelance writer and a Master Gardener of Davidson County. For more free advice on gardening in Tennessee, check with the UT Extension office in your county.

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