Fall is for planting

Daniel Gill  |  11/4/2008 2:15:52 AM

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Get it Growing for 11/28/08

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

I wish more gardeners understood that fall is a primary planting season in Louisiana. For years horticulturists have tried to get the word out that November through February is the ideal time to plant hardy trees and shrubs in the landscape. Planting in late November and early December is especially good since trees and shrubs planted now benefit in several ways.

The plants are dormant during this time and are less likely to suffer as much from transplant shock. In addition, the cool weather and regular rainfall typical during the winter here allow the new plantings to settle in and adjust with little stress (and less work for you watering them). Hardy trees and shrubs are not damaged by normal winter freezes, even if newly planted.

The roots of trees and shrubs will actively grow during the fall and early winter, so planting in fall allows them to become well-established prior to spring growth. By May of next year, trees and shrubs planted over the next six weeks will have developed better-established root systems than those planted next spring, and this will increase their ability to absorb water and survive that first stressful summer after planting.

Selecting trees for the landscape

There is no one perfect tree. 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. A small patio might benefit from a small 25-foot-tall tree planted nearby but be completely overwhelmed by a large tree. Planting a tree that will grow too large for its location is one of the most common mistakes people make (along with planting too many trees). Find out the mature size a tree will achieve before you plant it.

-- Think about the purpose of the tree and why it is needed. This will help you determine what characteristics the tree should have – such as its shape, size and rate of growth. Also consider ornamental features, such 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). Deciduous trees are particularly useful where you want shade in the summer and sun in the winter. Small to medium-sized evergreen trees are useful as sound barriers or privacy screens.

-- Choose trees that are well-adapted to our local growing conditions. They must be able to tolerate long, hot summers and mild winters, which makes unsuitable for our area a variety of northern species you might see in catalogs. Trees that are not completely hardy are not good choices either.

-- Don’t forget to check the location of overhead power lines. If you must plant under them, use small, low-growing trees. Also consider walks, drives and other paved surfaces that may be damaged by the roots of large trees. Locate large trees at least 15 feet away from paved surfaces and your house.

Tree planting guidelines

Planting trees properly is not difficult but can make the difference between success and failure. Whether the tree is balled-and-burlapped or container grown, dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the height of the root ball. When placed into the hole, the root ball should sit on solid, undisturbed soil.

Remove a container-grown tree from its container and place the tree gently in the hole. A root ball tightly packed with thick, encircling roots indicates a rootbound condition. Try to unwrap or open up the root ball to encourage the roots to spread into the surrounding soil. Place a balled-and-burlapped tree gently in the hole with the burlap intact. Once the tree is in the hole, pull out nails that pin the burlap around the root ball, remove any nylon twine or wire supports that may have been used, and fold down the burlap. The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. It is critical that you do not plant the tree too deep.

Thoroughly pulverize the soil dug out from the hole and use this soil – without any additions – to backfill around the tree. Add soil around the tree until the hole is about half full, then firm the soil to eliminate air pockets, but do not pack it tight. Finish filling the hole, firm it again, and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in. Generally, we do not fertilize newly planted trees; however, slow-release fertilizer may be added to the upper 6 inches of soil when filling the hole. If the tree is tall enough to be unstable, it should be staked; otherwise, it’s not necessary.

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Contact: Dan Gill at (225) 578-2222 or dgill@agcenter.lsu.edu  

Editor: Rick Bogren at (225) 578-5839 or rbogren@agcenter.lsu.edu  

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