Fall Tree Planting
By Rob Sproule
A yard without trees is like a home without walls. The floor and furnishings might be there, but there is no overall structure to define the space.
It’s easy to see planting a new tree in the yard as a chore, but I think of it as creating a small piece of living legacy. This tree you’re planting will witness much of the future history of your home. If there are children born in the home, they will have memories of that tree as they play, climb it, grow into adults and eventually move way to plant their own trees.
The Best Time to Plant:
In September it’s not uncommon for someone to ask me, their face grim with concern, if the tree that they’ve just planted is doomed to winterkill. I’m always pleased to reassure them that it’s not. It’s a nasty myth that autumn is a poor time to plant trees. In fact, along with early spring it’s one of the best times to plant. Don’t be afraid to break out the shovel just because the kids are back in school; you will be doing your new tree a favour.
The ideal time to plant deciduous trees is when they are dormant, meaning before the leaves unfurl in the spring and after they fall in autumn. Dormant tree roots are much less likely to be seriously shocked during planting. Evergreens are more flexible since their dormancy isn’t as obvious. It’s important to avoid planting during a heat wave. In extreme summer heat, actively growing tree roots can shock and dry easily.
Preparing the Ground:
Trees can’t get up and cross the yard if they’re in a bad spot, so it’s up to you to give them a good home. Take a second look to make sure the spot is suitable with the tree’s needs (ie. are you about to plant a water-loving birch on the top of a steep hill).
A great hole is the secret to a great tree. Dig it a few inches wider than the root-ball on all sides and have a pile of rich black earth nearby to backfill. Fibrous roots, which collect the tree’s nutrients, can’t grow into hard clay. Don’t pull your tree out of its pot and leave its root-ball drying in the sun while you dig. Keep it sheltered or, better yet, dig before your trip to the garden center.
Giving Your Tree the Best Start:
Make sure to water your tree in well upon planting. If they water pools for too long, the soil probably has a lot of clay in it so water a bit less, and vice versa with sandy soil if the water vanishes immediately. I can’t stress enough the value of putting a simple wood mulch, like cedar chips, around your tree. It not only looks better, but it will cool the soil surface from our extreme summer heat and in doing so will prevent a lot of stress on the root system.
When you do plant a tree, don’t make it a chore. Make it an event. Dig the majority of the hole and then get the family together for the last few shovels. Set the tree in with everyone having a hand on the trunk. That tree will stand at your home for decades, and it’s sobering to think about how much it will see. I hope you go get your hands dirty this weekend.