Fall is for planting

Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Sunny Hill Gardens Nursery manager Gary Siebert planted a River Birch. (DON FRAZIER ~ dfrazier@ semissourian.com)

"Fall is for planting" is a theme developed by nursery professionals several years ago.

Even though it is an old theme, it is still a theme that speaks to us today.

Fall is a very good time to plant trees and shrubs for several reasons. First, gardeners seem to have a little more time to think about what and where to plant.

You are not trying to get planting done along with fertilization and weed control. Nor are you as busy covering and uncovering plants to keep them from getting late frostbite. In essence, you can focus on design and have the time to plant.

Roots of trees and shrubs planted in the fall have all winter to settle in, so to speak. Soils will compact due to fall and winter rains. This means that all of the air pockets will be eliminated, and that there will be good soil-root contact, a necessity if the newly planted shrubs are going to extract water and nutrients from the soil.

We also have lots of rain in the fall and winter. Soil will have its moisture supply replenished, so you won't have to water as much in the spring.

When planting, be sure to dig a hole two times the diameter of the plant's root ball. Rough up the edge and bottom of the hole. Mix the excavated dirt with peat moss in the ratio of two-thirds soil to one-third peat.

Remove the plant from its pot and shoot a jet of water at the root wad. Do this until a lot of free root ends separate from the root wad. If you don't do this, the roots will continue to grow in a circle and never move into the new soil.

Next, place the root wad in the center of the excavated hole and backfill with the soil-peat mixture. I try to keep the top of the root wad about two inches higher than the soil around the plant. I also use any extra soil to form a berm around the plant to hold water.

Water the new planting with a solution of a high phosphorous fertilizer such as 9-59-8. For the next one or two waterings, use a solution of the same fertilizer.

If the tree or shrub that you planted was deciduous (loses it leaves in the winter) your job is done until next spring when you may have to water if the spring rains don't come as usual. If the tree or shrub you planted was a broadleaf evergreen, such as boxwood, azalea or southern magnolia, then you need to take one more step in November to make sure that your fall planting is successful.

Broadleaf evergreens transpire all winter long. Consider the following scenario. During January we have a warm up where the days are spring-like. On those warm days, the broadleaf evergreen leaf will transpire just like it does during the summer. But since the broadleaf evergreen roots have not started to really grow into the new soil, they can't pull much moisture out of the ground to replenish the moisture lost in the leaves due to transpiration. The browning that results is called winter burn. If the burn is bad enough, death can occur.

You can eliminate winter burn in fall plantings by spraying the shrubs with an anti-transpirant in November. This product will plug up the pores in the leaves and prevent moisture loss during the warm winter days.

So whether you plant deciduous trees and shrubs or broadleaf eversgreens, fall is still for planting. You just have to handle each class of plant a little bit differently.

Send your gardening and landscape questions to Paul Schnare at P.O. Box 699, Cape Girardeau, Mo. 63702-0699 or by e-mail to news@semissourian.com.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: