Whether you want to plant a shade tree, flowering tree, fruit tree, or shrubs, fall is the time.
Most trees and shrubs, sometimes known as woody plants, perform most root growth when shoot growth is not occurring. As the top of the plant goes dormant, roots resume growth in cooler soil. Roots, of course, provide water and nutrients to support the top of the plant. The foliage in the shoots uses water and nutrients to manufacture food for the entire plant. The leaves also transpire – or evaporate water into the atmosphere.
Water transpiration speeds up to keep the plant from overheating in the summertime. It’s during this critical summer period that water demand on the woody plant is very high. With high water use, it stands to reason that the plant needs a healthy, vigorous root system. If the tree or shrub is planted in the spring – as too many are – then root growth hardly has a chance to start before it slows and new shoot growth begins. Tender new shoots lose water rapidly and place great demands on the roots. Unfortunately water resources available to the small root system may be far too limited.
But if the plant is planted in the fall, then it gets root growth in late fall and late winter before the demands of summer. Two seasons of root growth preceding the summer demand. Two-for-one, a much better deal for the plant.
From late fall to late winter is optimal for planting in our area, and sooner is better than later. Prepare a rooting area at least 4 times wider than the root ball. The root ball should go on firm soil that will not settle when watered. The top of the root ball should be at or slightly above grade of the surrounding soil. Water well and mulch. After that initial watering, you probably will not need to water again before next summer.
Al Cooke is the horticulture agent for Chatham County Cooperative Extension.