Halloween, Thanksgiving and holiday commercials are around the corner. You should be more concerned about finding a Christmas tree than planting a tree in your yard, right? Wrong! Fall is actually the best time to plant trees and shrubs.
Although most people wait to plant until spring, fall is the optimum time to plant trees, shrubs and perennials that will last for years to come.
Best time for root growth
Although your plant may look dormant above ground, there is a lot of activity going on beneath the soil.
“Fall is the best time to plant because the plants are not trying to put on leaves, flower or grow fruit,” said Mallory Kelley, Alabama Cooperative Extension System agent. “This allows the plants to put all their energy into making roots while the parts of the plant above ground are dormant.”
According to Dr. Dave Williams, horticulture professor at Auburn University and former Alabama Extension specialist, photosynthesis is the source of this root growth.
“Instead of photosynthates being used immediately for bud development, they begin to move down the root system. In the root system they’re stored as carbohydrates,” Williams said. “Some of them are used for root growth while the soil is still warm.”
Time to get established
Planting in the spring requires trees and shrubs to immediately begin budding. Planting in the fall gives your plant a period of rest, so it can firmly establish itself.
“[The plants] have fall and all winter which is typically a wet period, and the soil moisture allows plenty of root growth,” said Dr. David West, Alabama Extension’s Calhoun County coordinator. “They can get established before they try to commit resources to blooming and growing.”
This is particularly beneficial in Alabama because of mild temperatures. The soil remains warm into late fall and early winter, allowing a vast network of roots to develop.
A strong network of roots is key to a successful tree or shrub.
“It helps them to be stronger and healthier the following year when hot, dry weather arrives, and they are trying to put on flower and fruit,” Kelley said.
Because fall is not a popular time to plant, it is a good time of year to find plants on sale. Most consumers are buying pumpkins, poinsettias and Christmas trees, leaving slashed prices for common trees and shrubs.
It is still important, however, to choose a good quality plant for your climate and soil type.
“You may have to search a little bit,” Williams said. “Local gardening centers are a good place to start.”
To plant your tree or shrub, begin by researching and selecting a plant for your climate and growing site. Once you’ve chosen
your plant, dig a hole that is at least two times as wide and just as deep as the plant is in the pot. Be cautious of power lines and roof eaves overhead and fiberoptic and gas lines underground. Call 811 to see if your site is safe.
Add organic matter to the hole, and mulch around the plant to suppress weeds and insulate the soil from temperature. Lastly, and most importantly, water your plant immediately and often.
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