As much as I love the warm summer months, I am so excited to welcome the fall season. Beautiful, vibrant colors, the crisp air, and homemade apple pies make me happy. But don’t permanently exchange your garden tools for the rolling pin just yet; there’s still some important planting to be done!
Fall is actually the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. It’s likely more enjoyable for you, the gardener because you won’t be quite as hot while digging. But the cool, wet weather is also preferred by the plants. The magical combination of warm soil and cool air stimulates root growth, giving trees their best chance at survival in your landscape.
I absolutely love trees and shrubs and have added a number of them to my gardens over the years. Not only are they perennial plants, but they add so much seasonal interest to your property, no matter how warm or cold it is.
My absolute favorite is the “Chicago Fire Burning Bush”. If you want something big with gorgeous crimson color in the fall, go with this beauty. I once saw somebody refer to it as a weed, but I wholeheartedly disagree.
Generally, you can buy your trees or shrubs from your local greenhouse in three different formats:
Trees or shrubs that are without soil. They’re grown in a field and dug up after losing all of their leaves. These are by far the most affordable, but make sure you plant them right away.
Balled and Burlapped
These are dug up with a ball of soil around the roots, burlapped, and prepared for sale. They’re usually the biggest and most expensive, but that’s not always better. The fewer or smaller the leaves are, the quicker your shrub will recover after transplanting.
You’ll probably see these most often at greenhouses and nurseries. They’re easy and very flexible, as they can be planted any time of year, but make sure you transplant them before they become root bound.
My gardening bible of late, Gardening Complete: How to Best Grow Vegetables, Flowers and Other Outdoor Plants, has a wonderful chapter with step-by-step guides to planting in the fall and giving your plants the best shot at survival. Here are some of the basics:
Here’s where I’ve seriously failed in the past; the diameter of the hole for woody plants should be twice the size of the root ball. This is the perfect opportunity to also amend your soil with some rich, homemade compost!
You want to get this just right; planting too deep or too shallow can cause problems for your shrubs. Most plants come with excellent planting instructions, but a general rule of thumb is to dig a hole the same depth of the root ball itself, especially when dealing with container-grown plants.
Be sure to check on the plant tag how big the shrub or tree is expected to be at maturity, and space accordingly. The exception to this rule, of course, is if you are planting a hedge.
Watering and Fertilizing
Water is important to plants no matter what, but in the first year after transplanting, be sure shrubs and trees get about an inch of water a week. Keep in mind, this is why planting in the fall or spring is ideal; there’s a lot of free water from the rain and ground for your gardens. As for fertilizer, try to wait a year after planting for best results.
Don’t have any trees or shrubs to plant? Don’t fret, avid gardeners. There’s still plenty of other outdoor work to be done!