If you missed out on a spring planting, and are now wondering if you can plant shrubs and trees in autumn, then you’re in luck! Fall is a wonderful time to plant many different varieties of trees and shrubs. The soil temperature is warm, the air temperature starts to cool, and depending on where you live, you also get adequate rainfall to help your woody plants prepare for winter.
Why Fall is a Great Time to Plant
In general, most people think of spring as the typical preferred season for planting trees and shrubs– and this may be true for flowers and vegetables. However, when it comes to trees and bushes, fall season plantings (mid-August to November depending on your location) offer many advantages. For starters, hot, dry conditions can injure many young tree specimens. the cooler temperatures mean the plants are less likely to be stressed by extreme heat. When air temperatures are cooler than the ground you’re planting in, it encourages new root growth without the new top growth. This often results in a stronger, more resilient root system for the coming spring when these plants really jump-start their growth. Planting in the fall means your trees and shrubs get three seasons of root growth before the heat of summer hits, which is when they could suffer the most damage.
Again, depending if you live in the northern or southern part of North America, you can plant trees and shrubs from September through October. Others who live in the southwestern part of the U.S. can plant trees and shrubs well into November.
Tips for Successfully Planting Woody Ornamentals
The following tips don’t go into depth when it comes to the nuances of planting trees in the fall, but these are 9 important considerations as you plant this fall. There will be additional resources at the end of this blog to help you learn more about installing trees and shrubs in your region of the U.S. or Canada.
Here are those nine tips to successfully plant trees and shrubs this fall:
Have a plan of action. Why are you planting a tree or shrubs? Is it a wind-screen or for privacy? To help with noise pollution? Or do you want more shade in your yard?
After you decide on the purpose for adding woody ornamentals to your property, you need to draw up a plan. It doesn’t have to be professional looking, but you want to make sure you have a drawn plan that works for you, your property and plants.
Finally, make sure you’re installing the right plants in the right place. If you bought shrubs that need full sun, but you put them in the shade, your woody ornamentals will not grow and develop as they should if they were planted where they would thrive.
Learn more: How to give your lawn its final fertilization or weed control treatment.
Shop only at a reputable nursery or garden center. You don’t want the cheapest plants you can find. Also, beware of “too good to be true” bargains.
Since trees and shrubs are an investment, you only want healthy plants. You can trust names such as Better Homes and Gardens (BHG), HGTV Home Plant Collection, Monrovia, Proven Winners and other name brands. Ask your garden center or nursery for their recommendations and if the plants come with a warranty.
Dig a hole deep enough for the root ball where there’s 6” of clearance on all sides of the tree or shrub. When it comes time to dig in the dirt, you want to dig a hole deep enough so that the root ball stands steady on level Next, you want to make sure that there’s a least 6” on all sides of the tree to allow the roots to expand and grow.
You want your newly planted tree or shrub to sit higher than the surrounding ground. You want your new tree or shrubs to stand slightly taller than the surrounding area. This helps aid in soil drainage and settling. Once the trunk is placed in a straight position, surround with soil and pack tightly, ensuring there aren’t any air pockets.
Don’t pick up your young tree by the trunk because it could break off from the root ball. The trunk is lighter than the root ball. If the trunk breaks off from the root ball, the tree or shrub will probably die.
Cover the root ball entirely as well as the rest of the hole. Now, it’s time to cover the roots and hole with backfill. Make sure you fill the entire hole and tap down the soil before watering it.
Don’t add fertilizer, but do mulch around your new tree or shrub. The tendency is to add beneficial nutrients whenever you plant. However, you don’t want to supercharge your trees or shrubs with fertilizer. Save fertilization until the spring.
Give your new woody plant plenty of water and plan to keep watering it. Properly irrigating your new tree or shrub is essential. When you’re done backfilling your plant, add plenty of water that covers the hole. You don’t want to overwater or make it soupy.
To determine how much water your new tree or shrub needs, you take the diameter of the trunk or the main stem and multiply it by one to two gallons of water. You’ll need to adjust that number depending on the week’s total rainfall and the type of soil on your property. You’ll need to continue to keep irrigating your young trees and shrubs throughout the winter.
Don’t forget to add mulch. After you’re done planting your trees and shrubs, put up to four inches of mulch around the plant. You don’t want to create a volcano of mulch against the trunk because it’ll invite insects and disease to develop. However, an application of mulch helps the soil around your tree stay moist, maintain even temperatures, protects the roots from frost heave, and gives some nutrients to your plants. Instead of heaping mulch around the tree like a volcano, create a small water-holding basin around the trunk. It should look like a small crater surrounding the trunk.
Which Shrubs and Trees Can You Plant this Autumn?
There are many options when it comes to fall shrubs, as most deciduous shrubs can be planted in later seasons without causing issues. Home depot garden club recommends these favorite flowering shrubs for a fall planting, and even advises which zones they work best in via their plant hardiness zone map.
Camellia Sasanqua: Drought tolerant with bright blooms.
Spirea: Early spring bloomer and is drought tolerant once established.
Oakleaf Hydrangea: Hardy and appreciates rich, well-drained soil and full sun.
Rhododendron: Clustered blooms that prefer filtered sunlight and afternoon shade.
Smoke Bush: Named for its wispy blooms that resemble smoke, hardy through most areas of the country.
Looking to really “spruce” up your yard instead? if you’re wondering if you can plant trees in the fall, we know the answer is yes– the question just becomes the best fit for your location and yard. The Morton Arboretum lists the following species that can be successfully planted in fall: Alder, Ash, Buckeye, Catalpa, Crabapple, Hackberry, Hawthorn, Honey Locust, Elm, Kentucky Coffee Tree, Linden, Maple, Sycamore, Pines, and Spruces. It’s always best to check what works in your location, and to also put the right tree in the right place on your property. The Arbor Foundation offers excellent guidance as well as a map as to which species work best, especially on suburban and residential lots.
A Heavy-Duty Dump Cart Can Help You Plant Trees and Shrubs in the Fall
A helpful tool for any planting project, a dump cart is a go-to for large-scale landscaping jobs. While a wheelbarrow may suffice for many yard jobs, a dump cart (also referred to as a lawn or garden cart) can haul everything a wheelbarrow can, and then some. It can transport saplings, mulch, and tools for digging or carry other tree planting equipment you’ll be using. If you plan on planting more mature saplings and shrubs, you’ll need a big enough cart to haul them back and forth. It’s also ideal if you’re going to be going over bumpy ground thanks to the heavy-duty wheels.