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Over the Garden Fence

Time to Plant Trees

Late summer and fall are great times to plant ornamental and shade trees in the home landscape. The weather is comfortable for us and the trees can begin to establish themselves in yard before the cold weather sets in for the winter.

If you are planting a flowering ornamental like a crabapple or serviceberry or another favorite bloomer, you can expect bloom next spring as the flower buds are already on the tree. That may not be the case for 2020. The tree will be directing all resources to establishing a strong root system instead of creating flower buds. Once the root system "catches up", flower bud production will resume. This is exactly what happens when planting fruits trees too. Do not think anything is wrong, it is just what happens. While shade trees also bloom, the flower is insignificant and the lack of bloom that year after go unnoticed.

Proper planting will help ensure your trees make it through its first winter in your home landscape with very little winter damage or none at all. Research done by the green industry suggests that if properly planted, shade trees will easily be there for future generations.

Be sure the shade tree you are considering will have plenty of room to grow since they can end up very large. Ornamentals typically are a smaller stature and easily fit in smaller yards. Another consideration is the kind of shade they provide. A large maple tree provides dense shade. This can be a challenge if you want to have a thick full lawn under the canopy. Locust trees on the other hand provide a much lighter level of shade.

The hole dug should be 2-3 times the width of the container or soil ball at the top of the hole, but does not have to be that wide at the base of the container or soil ball at the bottom of the hole. The extra width at the top ensures the feeder root system can expand easily and establish quickly. Do not over amend the soil you will be using to backfill around the container or soil ball. Strong textural differences make it hard for the roots to leave the container soil or root ball and move out into the soil it will be growing in for decades to come.

The next recommendation is to be sure the container or root ball is not too deep when put into the dug hole. That same research suggests that roots can grow down into the soil to the correct levels, but cannot really move upwards very quickly and that delays proper establishment. With container-grown trees, the root flair area is easily seen and that should be at or slightly above the soil line when planted. That same root flair is there on a balled and burlapped tree, but can be harder to see. If in question plant a balled and burlapped tree a little higher by an inch or two to ensure the tree is not planted too deep.

Water in well at planting time and check for soil moisture in the container or root ball area in about 5 to 7 days (sooner for containers, later for soil balls) to be sure adequate soil moisture is there. After that check weekly and water if needed well into November.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.