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Winter is best time to select and plant trees

For Release On Or After 11/26/10

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

November through early December is about the best time to plant trees in Louisiana. The soil is still warm, which encourages vigorous root growth, and trees will have several months to get established before next summer’s heat.

At the same time, the weather is cool and the trees are going dormant, which reduces stress. Generally generous rainfall during winter makes constant attention to watering unnecessary, although the forecast for this year may mean drier weather and require occasional watering of newly planted trees.

Planting at this time is especially beneficial for balled and burlapped trees because they lose so much of their root system when they are dug. If you need more time, the ideal tree planting season extends until March.

The trees you plant will grow much larger than the saplings you purchase and bring home from the nursery. It’s tempting to plant more trees than you really need, but years later you may realize you made a terrible mistake.

There is no one perfect tree for Louisiana. All trees have advantages and disadvantages depending on the planting location and desired characteristics. Here are some points you need to consider:

– Select a tree that will mature at the appropriate size. I cannot stress this too much. Generally, small trees are those that grow from 15 to 25 feet tall; medium-sized trees grow from 30 to 55 feet tall; large trees grow 60 feet tall or taller.

To get a feel for how well a tree will fit in the spot you have selected, try this exercise. Drive a stake into the ground where you intend to plant the tree. Do some research on the type of tree you’ve selected and determine the expected spread of the branches, and divide the expected spread by two. Then cut a piece of twine or string that long. If, for instance, the expected spread is 40 feet, cut a piece of string 20 feet long. Tie one end of the string to the stake, stretch out the string to its full length and walk in a circle around the stake. There’s no more effective way for you to really see how much space the tree will cover.

– Think about the purpose of the tree and why you feel it is needed. Do you need it to shade a two-story house or a small patio? Will a row of evergreen trees provide a screen or windbreak? This will help you determine what characteristics the tree should have, such as its shape, size and rate of growth, as well as flowers, attractive berries, brightly colored fall foliage or unusual bark.

– Decide if you want a tree that retains its foliage year-round (evergreen) or loses its leaves in the winter (deciduous).

– Choose trees that are well-adapted to our growing conditions. A number of northern species of beech, maple, conifers and others you might see in catalogs are unsuitable for Louisiana.

– Check the location of overhead power lines. If you must plant under them, use small, low-growing trees. Also consider underground water lines and septic tanks as well as walks, drives and paved surfaces that may be damaged by the roots of large trees. Locate large trees at least 15 feet away from your house and paved surfaces.

Planting trees is not particularly complicated, but doing it properly greatly enhances the tree’s ability to properly establish and grow. Plant trees properly according to these steps:

– Dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the height of the root ball.

–Remove container-grown trees from the container. If the root ball is tightly packed with thick, encircling roots, try to unwrap, open up or even cut some of the roots to encourage them to spread into the surrounding soil. Place the root ball in the hole.

– In the case of balled-and-burlapped trees, place them into the planting hole, then remove any nails, nylon twine or wire basket that has been used to secure the burlap. And finally, fold down the burlap from the top half of the root ball.

– The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. It is critical that you do not plant trees too deeply.

–Thoroughly pulverize the soil dug out from the hole and use this soil, without any additions, to backfill around the tree, firming the soil as it is added. Finish filling the hole and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in.

– Generally, fertilizer is not applied to trees planted in the fall, although some slow-release fertilizer could be applied next spring. The use of a root stimulator solution is optional.

–Stake the tree if it is tall enough to be unstable, otherwise it’s not necessary. Leave the support in place no more than nine to 12 months.

– Keep the area 1 to 2 feet out from the trunk of a newly planted tree mulched and free from weeds and grass. The mulch should be about 4 inches deep and pulled back slightly from the base of the tree.

– Water a newly planted or transplanted tree whenever the weather is dry. This is the single most important thing you can do to insure its survival, especially the first summer after planting. To properly water a tree its first year, turn a hose on trickle and lay the end on top of the ground within 6 inches of the trunk. Let the water trickle for about 30 to 45 minutes. This should be done twice a week during dry weather.

Rick Bogren

Last Updated: 1/3/2011 1:31:37 PM

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