Landscape Now: Fall Plantings For Your Backyard

Saturday, October 05, 2013


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Red maples are beautiful for the fall, but should be dug or transplanted in the spring for best chance of success.

Most people think of spring as the time to plant new trees and shrubs in their landscape. Many overlook the fact that fall is an appropriate time to plant new shrubs and transplant existing perennials, shrubs and trees in their landscape. The days are mild, the nights cool and typically, there is an abundance of moisture. These are ideal conditions to plant and allow the new tree or shrub time to grow its roots before winter and be well established before the hot, dry conditions of next summer. Additionally, the soil temperature may be warmer and less damp than in the spring...and you may have more time in the fall to do your landscape work!

Several Precautions with Fall Planting

Although fall is a great time to plant and transplant there are several restrictions that you need to be cognizant of. There are some trees that are “Fall Hazards” meaning they should not be dug or transplanted in the fall because of an increased chance of failure. These plants should be dug or transplanted in the spring for the best chance of success. Several of these trees are: Red maples, Birches, Beeches, Dogwoods, Hawthorns, Magnolias, Cherries, Oaks, Hollies and Red cedars. However, you can plant these trees in the fall if they have been dug in the spring or grown in containers. The same is true for shrubs and perennials that have been grown in containers...planting in the fall will be fine.

The other precaution is to wait until plants have gone dormant before transplanting them in your yard. Normally this will be after the first several frosts, usually mid-October. So long as the transplanted tree or shrub has 30-45 days before the ground freezes, the roots will have a chance to grow and adjust to its new surroundings.

Interesting Varieties to Plant

Fall is a great time to tour nurseries and pick out plants that are exhibiting their fall leaf colors. Spring and early summer purchases will give you an idea of flower color and leaf shape, but fall selections will show you their true foliage colors and add another seasonal element to your landscape. Sugar maples, tupelos, kousa dogwoods, fothergillas, oakleaf hydrangeas, blueberries, sweetspires, cotoneasters, and paperbark maples all display varying vivid colors highlighting the fall season in your gardens.

Planting Procedures for Fall Installation

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The number one cause for plant death is improper planting. Following several proven and accepted planting guidelines will help to insure that your plants will survive and thrive! If the plant has been grown in a container make sure that the root ball is scarified (gently cutting of the sides of the root ball to loosen up the roots that may be root bound), dig a hole 1.5-2 times the width of the root and about the depth of the root ball. Mix in a third of the soil dug out with compost and good loam, set the root ball at the same height (or slightly above grade), and water the root ball well. Backfill with the soil mix making sure to use some of the existing soil. Tamp lightly and build an earthen dam around the base of the plant at approximately the drip line. Put in 2” of mulch; be careful not to place mulch up against the trunk of the shrub or tree. If the tree is in a windy location staking the tree will be advised for the first season. Do not plant the new plant too deep...the roots need to exchange gases to survive. Too deeply planted shrubs and trees cannot exchange gases if there is too much soil on their roots and trunks causing them to die.

Aftercare, Winter Protection and Fertilizing

Even though the weather may be cool and moist, properly watering your new plants will be necessary until the ground freezes. Watering twice a week, deeply and slowly, will give the newly installed plant the moisture at the roots it needs to stimulate new root growth and adapt to its new surroundings. Although there is conflicting research about fertilizing new plants, I recommend no fertilizing at planting. The use of compost in the soil mix will provide moisture holding abilities, some nutrients, and humus for the plant to grow. Fertilizing can be done after a soil test and when the plant shows signs of distress with lack of vigor, weak growth, and discolored leaves.

Winter protection will be necessary, especially for fall planted evergreens to prevent winter wind desiccation. The application of anti-desiccants (like Wilt-Proof) will help the leaves and needles withstand winter winds that can dry out the plant throughout the winter. Erecting windscreens will help and mulching around newly planted trees, shrubs and perennials will help to moderate ground temperatures, hold moisture, and prevent the soil from heaving.

With some planning, you can successfully plant and transplant trees and shrubs over the next month or so depending on the weather. In southern New England, we normally have more time to plant before winter because of the moderating effect of the nearby warmer ocean. So, plan to visit your local nursery or garden center to pick out those colorful trees and shrubs and begin planting before winter sets in!

In my next article, I will take the mystery out of pruning your landscape trees, shrubs and perennials!

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” —L.M. Montgomery


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Frank Crandall, Horticultural Solutions. Frank is a R.I. resident specializing in coastal landscaping, organic land care, small business consulting, writing, speaking and photography and will be submitting biweekly articles about Landscape Solutions. Frank just published his third book, Creating a More Peaceful, Happy and Successful Life! You can read more about his book on his website, Comments about Frank’s articles are welcome by contacting him at [email protected].


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