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Michael Wheeler: Planting trees in fall, winter lets them establish roots
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For gardeners, nothing can compare to putting new plants into a landscape. The end product is eye-appealing and rewards them with the beauty of nature.

Adding trees and shrubs to the landscape keeps the house cooler for a longer period of the day, provides a windbreak in the winter and makes the house look more inviting to guests. It also creates a feeling of permanence when a tree is planted, because residents know it will outlive them as well as be around for others to enjoy.

Most people do not put much thought into how to plant a tree, but this is an important step to ensure the tree’s survival. The tree’s health and chances of getting established are closely tied back to how well it is planted.

The first thing to consider when planting a tree is the time of year. All trees can be planted in the dormant season of late fall and the winter season. A tree planted in the fall or winter has a better chance of surviving, because it is dormant.

A second reason to plant in the fall or winter is the availability of water is greater at this time of year.

And a third reason is soil temperatures. In the South, the soil is relatively warm, allowing trees to grow roots at this time. New growth of the roots is relatively slow, but the longer the tree is in the ground before the onset of summertime heat, the better off the tree will be. 

The second and biggest element to consider when planting a tree is location. A lot must be considered before putting a shovel in the ground.

Will the tree grow where you want it? Is there enough sun? Does the soil drain or does it hold water? Is there enough room for the tree years from now?

Examples of poor locations are trees planted too close to power lines or structures. They are doomed to have a life of continual pruning and shaping.

If you run into one of these problems, then either pick a different location or pick a different type of tree.

Once a spot is selected, it’s time to start digging. It is best to dig the hole at least two times the size of the root ball or container. The bigger they are, the better.

However, do not dig the hole too deeply. The top of the root ball needs to be level with the ground.

When digging, take the shovel and rough up the sides of the hole. This will prevent the roots from becoming bound inside the hole and will encourage them to explore into the native soil.

The third element to consider is whether or not to lime the hole and dirt that was dug from it. This will be the only time to change the soil pH down deep in the hole. So take advantage of the opportunity.

Fertilizer is not necessary at the bottom of the hole because it will not encourage the roots to grow out into the site and explore for nutrients. Generally, do not fertilize the tree during the first year of growth. Since the roots were confined, the tree will need to produce roots to balance out the above-ground growth.

With a light coating of lime in the hole and lime thoroughly mixed in the dirt, backfill the hole around the tree.

Next, apply about 2-3 inches of mulch around the planting area, but keep it away from the base. Mulch will not only keep weeds down, but give the tree a better advantage for getting nutrients and water. It also will keep the lawn mower at a good distance away from the trunk of the tree.

Since it is planting season, come out to the Hall County Master Gardener Plant Expo on Sept. 23-24 at Chicopee Woods Ag Center, 1855 Calvary Church Road, in Gainesville. It offers a chance to buy a little bit of everything associated with gardening.

For more information about the Expo, visit www.hallmastergardeners.com.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, ugaextension.org/county-offices/hall.html. His column appears weekly and on www.gainesvilletimes.com.

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