Regardless of the thermometer reading, fall is in our future! With fall comes the best time for planting many woody—as well as herbaceous—perennial plants. Plus, nurseries often have fall sales to move their existing stock.
Keys to successful fall planting
If you find plants you like, you might think: “Where can I put this particular plant?” A better question is: “What plant best fits my landscape scheme for this spot?”
- Before you buy have a site in mind.
- Be sure that spot meets the desired plant’s requirements for sun, moisture, and nutrients.
- Know how much space the plant needs and how quickly that plant will spread. Don’t bring home an invasive “Backyard Bully”!
- How about the soil pH? A soil test will tell you if you need to lime or add any nutrients.
The results of a soil test may change your mind. Consider choosing plants that will match the site characteristics.
Woody plants have additional needs
Trees—and even large shrubs—need special attention to their future size. Pruning may not be a viable answer to a tree that is shading too much of your homestead or threatening a power line, or a shrub that’s blocking a view. Consider how the planting will work in all four seasons. And think about how your placement will affect your neighbors, too. You can’t call in a moving company to cure a poor decision if your planting outgrows its space.
Are you prepared to do your own planting?
When looking at a woody plant you intend to plant yourself, consider the size, shape, and weight of the root ball. How is the root ball contained or restrained? You’ll need to remove that container or restrainer during the planting process, so be sure you have the appropriate tools. It is best to discard burlap or wire that may restrict future growth.
Before you plant, examine the root ball. Are there broken or circling roots? Many horticulturalists recommend carefully washing off the planting medium to correct any root problems before planting. At a minimum, remove circling or broken roots and then score or cut through the root ball to encourage root growth. For more information about root systems of woody plants see: http://gardenprofessors.com/little-ball-of-horrors/
Planting and irrigating
Backfill with the soil you removed when you dug the planting hole, and water as you fill. Tamp the soil gently; you don’t want to compact the soil, just put it in contact with the roots. Roots will continue to grow all fall and winter as long as the soil is not frozen at their level, so keep the root ball moist.
Finish by spreading mulch over the root ball. Not only will mulch retain moisture, but the mulch “blanket” helps maintain a stable temperature, so that a surge during a warm spell won’t cause the plant to prematurely break dormancy. But don’t mound mulch around tree trunks or shrub stems.
Pick a cool day and enjoy the exercise.
Article written Glenn Palmer, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer.