Most homeowners associate the spring season with planting trees, shrubs, and flowers. It’s definitely the most popular time. But, did you know that planting trees in fall is a great option as well?
Traditionally, spring is the busiest season in the garden and at garden stores. You’ve likely stopped by your local nursery on a Saturday in May and been shocked by how many people were shopping and buying plants. Garden fever is running rampant in the spring months!
But, if you didn’t have time to purchase and plant trees in the spring, you have a second chance at the end of the season. And in fact, there are many benefits to planting trees in fall over the spring and summer seasons.
Benefits of Fall Tree Planting
Planting landscape trees in fall can set your new trees up for less stress, better growth, and more success in the long term. Here are some of the advantages of fall planting.
Allows extra time for the tree to become established.
When you plant a tree in the fall it has more time to establish before the stress of the summer season. It can work to establish its root system for many months before it has to contend with hot temperatures and drier soils of summer. Because summer is usually the most stressful time for newly planted trees, giving your tree as much time as possible before the stresses of summer is ideal.
As the heat of summer subsides and autumn days arrive the cooler temperatures help reduce the stress on trees. Tree roots grow best in cool soil. As long as the soil temperature is above 50 degrees F the roots of the tree are still growing.
In more mild areas this could mean that your newly planted trees has a few months of root growth before the colder winter weather arrives. This extra time enables them to get established more easily and quickly before going dormant.
One of the challenges of planting in the spring is that summer in many regions tends to be hot and dry. Because newly planted trees need ample water, you might find yourself having to go out and water your trees on a regular basis. Failing to do so could result in dead trees by the end of the season.
In contrast, the fall weather in many areas brings with it plenty of rain. Combined with the cooler temperatures this means your trees won’t need as much watering from you as they would in the spring and summer.
Because trees go dormant in the winter they require less maintenance than trees planted in the spring and summer. The autumn rains easily keep them naturally watered, the cool soil temperatures encourage root growth, and these extra months help set it up for a very productive growing season the following year.
How to Plant Trees in Fall
Even though the temperatures are cool, you can plant trees up until the ground is frozen. Root growth is best when the soil temperatures are above 50 degrees F, so planting earlier in the fall is better.
The best choice for fall planting are deciduous trees, which are trees that lose their leaves in the winter. They don’t need as much water in fall and winter because they’ve shed their leaves and don’t have to feed them. Instead, they spend their energy on establishing their root system.
Be careful about planting evergreen trees too late into the fall. Because they don’t lose their leaves they need a more established root system heading into winter so they can keep their leaves hydrated throughout the winter. Planting evergreens in the late summer and early fall is best.
Trees that can be successfully planted in the fall include alder, ash, buckeye, catalpa, crabapple, hackberry, hawthorn, honey locust, elm, Kentucky coffee tree, linden, maple, sycamore, pines, and spruces. Most deciduous shrubs can also be planted in fall.
Where to Get Trees for Planting
Most local nurseries should still have trees in stock in the fall. And as a bonus, they might be hosting fall sales in order to clear out their inventory before the winter months.
You can also order trees online. The Arbor Day Foundation will ship trees in the fall. They also offer free shipping on orders over $75 and plant one tree for every order placed through their website.
Care of Your Trees After planting
The two most important things you can do after planting trees in fall are watering and mulching.
Water your tree correctly.
Proper watering within the first year of planting your new tree is critical. Keep in mind that overwatering is just as dangerous as underwatering. What type of soil you have in your yard as well as the rainfall you receive will determine how often to water your tree.
In general, most landscape plants need one inch of water per week throughout the season. If you have dense soil you may need to water less and if you have very sandy soil you will likely need to water more often. Water can come in the form of rainfall or from your hose. Use a garden or soaker hose turned on very low and let the water infiltrate the soil over a period of 15-30 minutes depending on the flow.
A good rule of thumb for fall planted trees is to simply water the tree one a week until the ground freezes, even after the tree has lost its leaves. Then, when spring arrives you can follow the above suggestions for making sure it’s getting at least 1 inch of water per week throughout the following season.
Create a mulch ring around your planting.
Next to watering, mulching is arguably one of the best practices for keeping newly planted trees healthy. A thick layer of mulch decreases evaporation, keeps the roots cool in summer and warm in winter, decreases root competition from grass and other plants, and the mulch breaks down into organic matter that will increase the soil fertility.
Putting a thick layer of mulch around the trees is also important in the fall in order to prevent the possibility of freezing and thawing that can lead to frost heaving.
There are really no downsides to mulching your trees! Read our post on how to mulch your trees (new and old) the right way.
If you missed the spring planting rush the good news is that you still have plenty of time to plant trees, shrubs, and flowers in the fall. If you’re not sure which tree is the right choice for your property, or you’d like it planted by a certified arborist, contact ECO to set up an appointment today.