, Muskogee, OK


October 26, 2011

Fall is the time to plant and shop for trees

— Ornamental trees, shrubs and perennials planted in the fall have the entire winter to grow roots and settle in before their spring growth above ground. And shopping for trees now will give homeowners an opportunity to see the plant’s autumn leaf color. Maple trees are hard to resist in the fall.

Many trees are on sale at a discount right now, and it is important to check their roots before bringing them home. A simple inspection will reveal if they became dry too many times over the years they grew in the can or if they have been in the container for too long.

Slip the root ball out of the container. The roots should be visible. But if the roots are growing in a circle around the outside of the root ball, you will have to do a little extra work to untangle them before planting. If the roots are larger than your finger, they should be pruned before planting.

Tree selection begins before the trip to the nursery. Consider the reason you want extra trees and where you want to place them. Only small trees can be planted near buildings.

Avoid putting large trees near security lights, street lights, power lines, water lines and septic systems. As the trees mature they will block lights and interfere with utilities. Avoid planting trees where the lawn sprinkler will keep the ground saturated.

Determine ahead of time how the tree will be watered. In the absence of a built in irrigation system, pull the hose out to its full length and plant the tree no farther away.

Low places in the landscape present a special problem since most trees want good drainage. Trees that can withstand poor drainage and wet roots, include black gum, bald cypress, honey locust and sweet gum (get the fruitless type to avoid the mess).

A tree that makes deep shade will not sustain the types of grass that grow in open sunny areas. Trees with no surface roots that produce only dappled shade, such as the slow-growing Kentucky coffee tree, allow other plants to grow beneath them.

If you would like a tree with winter visual beauty, try an evergreen such as an Austrian pine or a winter-flowering tree such as wych-hazel. Hawthorns, hollies and other trees that produce winter berries bring birds to your landscape.

To fill a large area with deep shade, look for a sycamore. Both the American sycamore and the London Plane tree will grow up to 100 feet tall. The beauty of their winter bark is an added attraction.

Oak trees are a good choice for their durability and beauty. They are drought tolerant; provide shade for families, and food for wildlife.

The planting hole for an ornamental tree should be the same depth as the soil in the container but three to five times as big around. Tree roots grow more horizontally than vertically.

Fill the hole with water and let it drain while you remove the grass and rocks and crumble the soil back into the hole. Newly planted trees do not need any fertilizer or soil amendments.

Do not plant the root ball just as it grew in the container. Take the tree from the container and tease out the roots, running water from a hose on them if necessary. Some gardeners soak and remove all of the container soil, gently untangle the roots, and then spread the roots in the planting hole.

Fill the planting hole with the original soil, water the loose dirt and build a water-holding berm around the outside edge. Mulch the top of the soil with commercial mulch, mushroom compost or homemade compost.

Email Day at and visit her garden blog at

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