Fall Shade Tree Planting

Charlie Metz
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

Trees define the landscape. They provide shade and definition to yards. They soften the starkness of structures, screen unwanted views and provide shelter for wildlife. Their value I increases as they grow. It is important to carefully choose, place and plant your trees.
November is an excellent time to plant trees. Trees lose their leaves and are no longer making food. They also cut their water uptake. Planting in fall reduces the shock larger plants go through when planted during warmer months.

Tree selection should take into account. several factors, including eventual size. If a tree grows very fast, it could be a problem if planted too close to your house. Find out if the tree has characteristics that may not be desirable for your yard. For example. Bradford pears split, dogwoods get disease, silver maples have aggressive roots and leyland cypress have bagworm problems. Make sure the tree can tolerate our climate.

Once you decide what tree to plant and where to plant it, you are ready to purchase it. Buy trees from a reputable nursery that offers a guarantee. Make sure branches are free of diseases or insects. Avoid trees with trunks that have multiple leaders or with branches that come out at sharp angles. These trees tend to split in heavy ice storms or windy conditions.

Planting a shade tree is not technically difficult. The hard part is the muscle work. Frequently, the most difficult part is just getting the tree to the hole. If you have a very large tree to plant, make plans to get it to the site. If this is too difficult, consider hiring the nursery or a landscape contractor to install the trees. Although more expensive, consider the long-term results. These trees will be there long after you are gone, so it pays to do it right the first time.

If you plant a tree yourself most of your energy will go into digging the hole. The hole should be at least 12 inches wider than the root ball. It should be dug no deeper than the depth of the root ball. Do not discard the soil unless it is of very poor quality. Carefully mix organic matter with the soil you dug out of the hole. Compost or peat moss work well.

Since most soils around here have heavy clay content, plant the tree slightly above existing grade. This prevents the possibility of the tree sitting in water when we have too much rain. Backfill the hole, carefully tamping the soil mix as you shovel.

Cut the rope at the top of the root ball. Also, cut the burlap on top and pull it down. If plastic burlap is used, remove before planting. Failure to do so could strangle the tree as it gets larger. If the tree came in a wire basket, do not remove the basket, but take wire cutters and snip the wires in several places. This will minimize the effect on the roots as they get larger over the years.

Constructing a small retention ring around the outside of the hole will make watering more effective. Mulch the area with shredded mulch to a depth of 3 inches. Be careful the mulch does not directly contact the trunk.

Pruning should only be done to remove broken or misshapen branches. Tree wrap is probably not necessary. Unless your tree is over 10 feet high, it is not necessary to stake unless the tree is in a particularly windy spot.

Trees still take up water in the fall, so a good watering once a week us sufficient. Rainfall usually takes care of this for you.

Trees add so much value to our properties. Proper planning and planting will ensure a lifetime benefit. How many things do you do that actually get better with time? Planting a tree is one of them.

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