When is the best time to plant or transplant trees and shrubs? Although these can be planted any time the ground isn't frozen, the absolute best time is fall. The cool air and warm soil temperatures are the perfect combination for establishing roots in a new environment.
Imagine for a moment that you are a plant or tree being relocated. Most of your roots were severed when you were dug up, and now you have to find a way to provide water and nutrients to all your parts, even though you've lost most of what you need to make that happen.
Now imagine it's summer. The sun is beating down on your leaves, there's no rain in sight, yet the normal environmental conditions call for you to grow, grow, grow. It's like being told to run a marathon in July while you're battling a terrible flu.
But what if you were provided cool temperatures, just the right hydration and all the nutrients to endure the 26-mile race? Your chances would be much better, right?
The cooler air is kind to plants and trees, especially those that have lost a major portion of their roots during digging. In addition, soil temperatures are still warm, creating an excellent environment for new root growth.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to fall transplanting is that many plants and trees are entering a period of dormancy.
Energy normally required to sustain existing foliage and produce more can instead go into root development and storing nutrients and resources during the cool months. By the spring, when demand for new growth above ground starts again, the root system should be well established, so the plant can handle the upcoming demands of summer.
Here are a few additional tips to ensure the success of all your fall transplants:
• When transplanting, advance work can make the difference between those trees and shrubs just surviving and thriving. Make the planting hole two to three times wider than the current root ball, but no deeper than the plant was growing in its previous environment.
• If you're planting a container-grown plant, don't assume that the soil level in the container indicates the proper depth for planting. Many times growers add more soil to the container, ultimately putting too much above the root level. At planting time, scratch away the soil to find where the roots really start. That's the proper level for planting in the ground.
• It is better to plant a tree or shrub slightly high and allow the area to drain than for a plant or tree to sit in a bowl and collect excess water. Newly disturbed soil has a tendency to settle and plants growing below grade can easily succumb to root rot or disease.
• When backfilling, return the existing soil to the planting hole around the roots, without amending the soil. The latest research indicates that roots growing in amended soil rarely venture into the harder native soil. For best long-term establishment, don't spoil your roots. Instead, break up the existing soil, remove the rocks and backfill.
• A critical step at this stage is to water well. Not only does it provide needed moisture, but the water also helps eliminate air pockets that could otherwise result in dead roots.
• The final step is to mulch with three to four inches of organic matter, such as shredded leaves, ground bark or straw. Mulch helps soil retain its moisture and moderate its temperature. Winter can bring dry conditions, so water if needed. Roots are still growing, and soil moisture is essential.