Fall’s a great time to plant trees and shrubs

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Lee Re­ich Visit http://www.leere­ich.com/ blog

Fall is a good time to plant trees and shrubs — the best time, in fact, for most of them.

Whether pur­chased through the mail or lo­cally, these plants are avail­able in three ways:


“Bare-root” trees and shrubs are grown in the field, then dug up while they are leaf­less, which might be done in ei­ther fall or spring. Those dug in fall are sold im­me­di­ately or are stored through win­ter with their roots packed in moist ma­te­rial. Root loss dur­ing dig­ging is an ob­vi­ous draw­back to bare-root plants.

Although bare-root might seem like a bru­tal way to treat a tree or shrub, the plants han­dle the move well as long as their roots are kept moist prior to plant­ing.

Bare-root trees and shrubs should not be dug un­til they have lost all, or nearly all, of their leaves in the fall. And their roots must be co­zied into the ground be­fore shoots start grow­ing, which is not a prob­lem in the fall. This highlights one ad­van­tage of fall plant­ing: There’s no dan­ger of shoots grow­ing pre­ma­turely, be­cause shoot buds stay dor­mant un­til they have ex­pe­ri­enced a win­ter’s worth of cold.

The big­gest ad­van­tage of bare­root plants is that they are eas­ily and rel­a­tively cheaply shipped all over the coun­try, giv­ing you the widest pos­si­ble se­lec­tion in va­ri­eties. What’s more, be­cause you can see the roots, you can eas­ily as­sess their con­di­tion.


“Balled-and-burlapped” trees and shrubs are also grown in the field, but they are dug up with a ball of soil that is then snug­gled into a wrap­ping of burlap.

Be­cause clay soils hold to­gether bet­ter than lighter soils, balled-and-burlapped plants are usu­ally grown in clay soils. But clay soils also are heav­i­est, so such plants are heavy. Weight and the need for ex­tra care to avoid break­ing up the root ball make mail or­der ship­ping of balled-and-burlapped plants un­fea­si­ble. Root loss can be ex­ten­sive when balled-and-burlapped trees and shrubs are dug, and plant se­lec­tion is lim­ited.


In­creas­ingly, both lo­cal and mail-or­der nurs­eries are sell­ing trees and shrubs as “con­tainer grown.” These nurs­ery plants spent their lives in pots. The pot­ting mix is lighter than field soil, so such plants can be eco­nom­i­cally shipped through the mail. Con­tainer grown plants can be planted any time of year as long as you can dig a hole and water them as needed.

Ideally, a con­tainer-grown plant spends long enough in the con­tainer so that its roots just fill it.

Watch out, though: Some gar­den cen­ters and nurs­eries buy bare-root trees and shrubs, and then pot them up for quick sale as con­tainer plants. And equally bad, plants that are truly con­tainer-grown are of­ten left too long in their con­tain­ers. Once the roots start grow­ing round and round in the pot, they can ac­tu­ally choke the plant, a con- di­tion that con­tin­ues to de­velop even af­ter the plant is set in the ground.

If pos­si­ble, check the qual­ity of a con­tainer-grown plant by slid­ing it out of its con­tainer to make sure it’s not root­bound, with roots that are very thick and tan­gled. The top growth of a well-pro­por­tioned pot­ted tree or shrub should be no higher than two to three times the depth of the con­tainer to en­sure a good ra­tio of roots to stems.

Whether you’re buy­ing bare­root, balled-and-burlapped or con­tainer­ized trees and shrubs, res­train your­self from buy­ing the largest pos­si­ble plant. In the case of the first two kinds of nurs­ery plants, small plants suf­fer less root loss in trans­plant­ing.

With smaller plants of any of the three kinds of nurs­ery plants, less water is needed af­ter plant­ing, and new roots more quickly ex­plore sur­round­ing soil to make the plant self-suf­fi­cient. Not too long af­ter trans­plant­ing, growth of an ini­tially smaller plant fre­quently over­takes that of an ini­tially larger one.


This un­dated photo shows a cedar tree in New Paltz, N.Y. A good nurs­ery tree, such as the one shown that has been re­moved from its pot, is only two to three times the height of its con­tainer with roots fill­ing, but not overcrowded, in the pot­ting soil.

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