Among the most frequent questions I get is: “Is now an okay time to plant?”
We all get this question, from March through November. My answer is always an enthusiastic “yes!”
Spring is a great time to plant because the weather is cool and the water needs of the establishing plant material isn’t high. Summer planting is fine too, you just have to keep an extra eye on plants’ water needs. Matter of fact, early to mid summer is the best time to be in the garden center because that’s when selection is at its peak, especially with late emerging plants finally up and at ’em such as hardy hibiscus and warm-season ornamental grasses. And of course, there’s fall time!
“Fall is Fantastic!”
Fall is an especially great time to plant because the weather is cooler (thus plants are demanding less water) but the ground is still warm from the summer temperatures (especially this year!). These conditions promote great root growth. Planting now and getting plants acclimated will translate into a plant that’s ahead of the game come spring time! So yes, even in November, you can plant! Coincidently, I just planted a tree in my yard yesterday!
Unlike the box stores and many other nurseries, we pride ourselves in carrying a good selection of quality stock throughout the fall. In fact, we order plants (from trees to perennials) all the way through September. This gives our customers the option of avoiding the spring and summer rush, and focusing on garden projects in the fall. Any plants we don’t sell we take care of and sell the following year. This also translates to a good selection in early spring before some of our new shipments arrive!
With very few exceptions, we still have the selection of trees we did in the spring and summer. We still have oaks and maples, redbuds and dogwoods, black gum and fir, and so on. With over 1,000 trees still for sale, I’d wager to say we have one that’s a fit for you! Same goes for shrubs and other plants.
How to Plant a Tree!
I’d like to talk a little about tree planting. Tree planting isn’t rocket science…but there are wrong and incomplete ways of doing it. (I don’t have to go out on a “limb” to say it!). While I am writing specifically about trees, the same principles apply to all other plants – shrubs, perennials, etc.
As you transport trees, move them by the pot or the rootball. Avoid pulling or dragging them by the trunk, especially on ball-and-burlaped (B&B) trees. If you have a B&B tree, do not push it out of the vehicle onto the ground. Hard impact can damage the root system inside the ball, especially on more temperamental trees like evergreens.
If the rootball is small enough, you can guide it into a wheelbarrow. If it’s larger, gently slide it down a board onto the ground. Once on the ground, you can use a dolly or roll the rootball itself to the site where it will be planted. I find that most rootballs can be rolled surprisingly easily. For trees with wide canopies that might fracture if you roll it, you can shimmy it instead by pulling it from side to side by the ropes or cage.
Dig the hole twice as wide but no deeper. Trees root out far quicker than they root down, especially when young, so digging deeper is unnecessary. Plus a heavy B&B tree might sink and settle if you dig too deep.
Rootball on Container Trees
Rootball on Ball and Burlaped (B&B) Trees
Once your tree is set, you can begin backfilling. If you’re soil is good, you do not need any soil amendment and you can backfill entirely with your native soil. If the soil is a compacted (usually from a high percentage of clay), you can mix in an amendment. We recommend using no more than 1/3 of amendment in the backfill. You can use mushroom compost on all non-evergreens, or our top selling product “Daddy Pete’s Lawn & Garden Mix” for anything. The latter is a mix of manure, pine fines, and gypsum. You can also top dress with an amendment. Keep in mind that you don’t want to coddle your tree; you want it to adapt to your native soil because this is where it’s going to live – even if the soil is a little rough!
Many customers ask about peat moss and sand. I would avoid using them. High amounts of sand may help loosen already loose soils, but will actually make compacted soils worse. Clay and sand blend together almost like concrete! Don’t use peat moss either. Peat moss helps lower the pH of soils and aids in water retention, both of which are unnecessary in western PA soils. Peat moss is also an unsustainable and environmentally destructive product (despite the claims of contrarians). For more on that, go here. https://www.indefenseofplants.com/blog/2015/5/4/the-truth-about-peat
If you’re soil is compacted, the best things you can do is simply add compost. Each spring or fall, you can can add some compost around the root zone of the tree and work it in into the top couple inches of soil. If you do this over time, the organic matter will continue to work itself deeper into the soil and it will become richer and looser over time.
With that said, if your soil has a high percentage of clay, you should select trees and other plants that are tolerant of clay soils, such as Sweetbay magnolia, native oaks, and hawthorns. You can help your soil, but don’t soil yourself by fighting it!
Many nursery trees come attached to a bamboo stake with plastic green ties. Unless the the tree has a wide floppy canopy and a very thin trunk, this should be removed upon planting. This is a training stake and is usually past its usefulness. These green ties will eventually cut into the trunk so at the very least, remove it within the first year of planting.
Unless your site is terribly windy, and your containerized tree has a very large canopy, it probably doesn’t need staked. Wind resistance helps trees root out better so staking can even be counterproductive. If you decide to stake your tree, only do it for the first year. Give the tree a little play so the roots can still react accordingly. Be sure to use ties that wont cut into the trunk.
Remove all tags and ribbons. They look tacky!
You may use a light dusting of mulch around the tree but be sure none of it touches the trunk. Piling mulch around the trunk can lead the tree into rooting around the trunk and girdling itself. It can also leaded to wounds and diseases.
If you bear these in mind, your tree will say “Thank you very mulch!”
Keep the soil moist but well drained. To encourage deep root growth, it’s best to water infrequently but for long periods.
Consider letting the hose trickle on the tree for an hour or so a few times a week during the summer, and a couple times a week during spring and fall. That’s better than watering for short periods on a frequent basis. Slow, long, and deep watering encourages much better root growth.
Fertilizer is unnecessary the first year (as we fertilize them here) but you’re still welcome to use a low dose organic product such as Espoma products Tree Tone, Plant Tone, and Holly Tone. Wait a few weeks after planting and follow the directions when applying. You can use these products in subsequent years or a compost product such as mushroom compost or a manure.
If you live in a neighborhood that is frequently visited by deer, protect the tree with a trunk protector during rut season which usually runs September through December. Or you can leave it on till spring as this will help reduce the risk of sunscald in exposed areas. Do this every fall/winter until the trunk is more than 5″ in diameter. Bucks prefer young, smooth trees to rub on.
It saddens me to see how often trees are prematurely removed from homeowner and commercial landscapes. Trees are awesome – so research, plan, and plant accordingly so you’re tree can be a beautiful asset to your landscape. A few more minutes of your time and attention could save you a lot of grief in the long run. And believe me, a healthy, well-sited, established tree is a low maintenance tree. And who doesn’t like low maintenance?
We hope you’ll come out and visit us before the growing season ends (mid-November)! Happy plantings!