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Planting Trees in Fall

Fall is a good time to plant trees.

Ideal tree planting dates in fall
Fig. 1. Ideal planting dates.
Spring is usually the best time to plant trees but fall can be a good time as well. Nurseries may offer substantial discounts in fall (ask them about their guarantee policy).

When should I plant?

You need to give the roots of trees adequate time to become established before winter arrives. Roots keep growing until soil temps dip below 40°F. Ideal dates for fall planting are shown (Fig. 1). These deadlines will give tree roots about a month to grow. Planting trees after these dates may be successful, but chances for success diminish the later you get into the season, especially with evergreens.

How deep should I dig?

The tree should be planted so its root collar is slightly above the soil line (Fig. 2). Don’t plant the tree too deep or it may develop roots that will later strangle the trunk.

Should I add special soil?

Tree planting height
Fig. 2. Proper planting height.
Let the tree adapt to the soil at the site. Adding lots of amendments (for example, compost, peat moss or sand) in the hole may discourage tree roots from pushing out into the native soil. Trees planted now will not need fertilization until spring.

How often should I water?

Keep the roots moist throughout the planting process, and water the tree thoroughly after planting.

Check the tree every few days and water—but only if the soil is dry. A good general rule is a tree needs 10 gallons of water for each inch of its trunk diameter per week. Keep watering until the ground freezes. Do not water if the soil is already wet.

Should I stake the tree?

Staking is often helpful, particularly with large trees and in windy spots. Use two to three stakes and wires with band/strap attachments. The wires should not come into direct contact with the tree bark.

The staking should allow for some movement of the trunk, which will encourage stronger roots. Remove the staking after 1-2 years.

Should I mulch the tree?

Yes. A ring of shredded bark or wood chips will conserve moisture, prevent extreme soil temperatures, protect the roots from shifting in winter, reduce weeds, reduce competition from turf, and protect the tree from mowers.

Use the 3-3-3 rule: the ring of mulch should be at least 3 feet in diameter, 3 inches deep and not be closer than 3 inches to the trunk.

Should I prune the tree?

Remove only broken or dead branches.

Should I wrap the tree?

Yes. Wrap the tree later this fall to protect it against sunscalding over winter. Kraft tree wrap paper or a white drain pipe will work. The drain pipe can also protect against rodent damage.

Written by , Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Published in the NDSU Yard & Garden Report for September 22, 2017. 

Source: Zeleznik, J. and E. McGinnis. 2016. Tree planting in North Dakota. North Dakota State University.

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