Fall: A good time

Fall is the ideal time to plant a tree--both for the gardener and the tree. The weather is cooler, so it is more enjoyable working outdoors. The tree also benefits because the soil is better able to retain moisture now than during the hot days of summer, so it becomes established easily. Here are some tips from the American Nursery and Landscape Association for successful fall planting of trees. Before you plant the tree, test your soil for drainage. Dig a hole, fill it with water, and check it twice--once after 24 hours have elapsed, again after 48 hours. If the hole drains well in this time frame, the soil should adequately support a tree. Dig the planting hole two to three times wider than, and about as deep as, the tree's rootball. The hole should be deep enough to plant the tree at the same depth, or slightly above the depth, it was in the nursery field. If you dig the hole too deep, the tree will settle as you water it. This places stress on the root system. The key is to have the "flare"-- the sloping part of the trunk where it meets the roots-- at the soil surface. If you selected a bare root tree, gently place the roots in the hole, taking care not to tangle or twist them. For a container-grown or balled and burlapped tree, mound up a small amount of soil in the bottom of the hole, and place the tree on top of the mound. After placing the tree in the hole, refill it with the soil you initially removed. There are many different views on what to mix--or not to mix--into this soil. For example, it's probably not a good idea to add too much organic matter, especially if the native soil is very different or poor. Doing so will promote the roots staying in the amended refill. As you refill the hole, gently tamp the soil to remove air pockets and establish good contact between it and the roots. Don't compact the soil too forcibly. This will help prevent the roots from drying out. Water deeply. It's probably best to wait until early spring to fertilize although you could after leaves turn and start to fall. Again, apply according to soil tests. Not waiting too late to plant in fall, selecting the right plant for the right place, planting properly with good care after, and avoiding difficult species, will help ensure successful fall planting of trees. Those species that are slow to establish, and often better planted in spring, include fir, birch, ginkgo, larch, hophornbeam, oak, willow, and hemlock.

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