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Trees with ease

Plant trees in the fall to maximize root growth.Two local experts tell how to get started.


Fall tree season is here. Cooler temps are ideal for getting roots established, making autumn the perfect time to plant new trees.

We talked to two local experts for the lowdown on how to start planting.

Ideal weather

Trees can be planted at any time of year, but planting in the fall makes it much easier on both the new trees and you. “Root growth starts to occur in cooler soil,” explained Jerry Schelhorn, nursery manager with Grandma’s Gardens in Waynesville. “If you plant a tree in the fall, it will set its roots out.”

“The goal in fall is to get rooting,” Schelhorn said. “In the spring, you’ll have healthy growth.” He said that by planting trees in the fall, you’re only trying to get them to do one thing: set roots. When trees are planted in spring, they must work to both put down roots and create growth.

Buying a tree

Make sure you choose a reputable nursery when buying your trees. Nurseries not only have higher quality products, but the staff will be able to advise you on best practices for care and planting of the specific tree variety you purchase.

Make sure you also check for a few common issues. “When purchasing a tree, there are many things to look for,” said Cris Barnett, chief naturalist with Greene County Parks & Trails. “Gently bend an outer branch to see how pliable it is. If the branch is stiff or snaps, then you know that the tree has not gotten enough moisture.”

Pests can also be problematic. According to Barnett: “You need to examine the branches and trunk for insects’ holes, insect galls (bug homes) and scars. This does not always mean that the tree is insect infested, but if a trunk is covered with scars, holes or fungus, I would suggest looking at another specimen… Funguses can spread, so be sure to look at the trees surrounding the one you plan to purchase to be sure there is nothing your plant may have been exposed to.”

Planting process

If your tree is especially large or you’re a novice at gardening, then many garden centers and nurseries will deliver and plant your trees for you. For those dedicated to DIY (do-it-youself), be sure to follow these guidelines to make sure your trees thrive.

“One of the most important things to do is make sure you find the root flare,” Schelhorn said. This is the spot where the first of the main roots attach to the trunk of the tree. Not finding the flare is one of the biggest mistakes people make when planting. “[The flare] needs to be right at grade level with a wide layer of mulch on top of the flare, but no soil.”

To place the tree in the ground, “dig at least a couple of feet all the way around the root ball of the tree,” Schelhorn said. Due to the heavy clay soil prevalent in the Miami Valley, Schelhorn recommended that you blend the soil you take out of the hole 50-50 with Grandma’s Mix, sold at Grandma’s Gardens, or another planting mix suitable for trees. He also suggested starting the tree off with Bio-Tone Starter Fertilizer when planting.

Checking for drainage is essential. “It’s a good idea to dig the hole when it’s wet to see if water runs into the hole,” Schelhorn said. “If it doesn’t percolate, you’ll have to build the tree up with top soil and mix to keep it elevated.”

If you’re looking for something a bit easier to work with, container trees are a great option. These are sold in containers similar to flowerpots, unlike the traditional burlap-wrapped trees. “They’re easier to haul in your vehicle, lighter weight and available at lower price points,” Schelhorn said. “They’re great for the do-it-youselfer.”

Care tips

Although trees are certainly easier to take care of and require less maintenance in fall, you’ll still need to do a few things to get your trees off to a healthy start. “All trees need water, even if they are planted in autumn,” Barnett said. “Be sure to water your tree well after planting, and then again approximately once a week until the ground is frozen. When spring comes don’t forget to start watering again. Until the tree establishes itself, which can be up to a year, trees need moisture.”

To determine how much water your tree needs, don’t place yourself on a strict timetable, Schelhorn cautioned. “Feel the soil and check the forecast,” he said. “If you can feel moisture, don’t water, but if the soil feels dry, water it.” To water, give the tree “a heavy, deep soaking. Put the hose at the base of the tree on a trickle for about 25-30 minutes based on the size of the tree.”

Contact this contributing writer at saramthomas@yahoo.com.


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