NORMAN — I say this every fall, but I love this time of year. Time to turn off the AC, open the windows, and put on your gardening hat— you can actually bear to work outside again! Whether you want to establish a new bed, or renovate a corner of the garden, September through December is the ideal time to plant trees and woody shrubs.
Even though the canopy of trees and shrubs may look bare and dead during the fall and winter months, plant roots are a different story. Woody plant roots will continue to grow and multiply down to a 40 degree soil temperature. In Oklahoma, especially Cleveland County, the soil rarely ever gets below this temperature. Planting now gives woody perennials a chance to establish a good root system, to better support the plant and surge of spring growth. A good root system makes for decreased environmental stressors and happy plants. Less stress can also means a lower chance of insect and disease infestation down the road.
Container grown trees and shrubs are sold everywhere in many of varieties. Take the time to inspect the group of plants and choose one in the best health. Do not choose plants that have any visible signs of insect or disease damage, trunk damage, or overall poor health. Inspect the plant roots of container grown plants and avoid those with circling roots or roots coming out the drain holes. In addition, if the plant is “pot-bound” where the roots are visible and formed to the shape of the pot, be sure to cut or break those apart before planting.
Balled and burlapped (B&B) trees are also better planted this time of year. In some cases up to 95 percent if the root system is chopped and lost with B & B plants. Planting B & B plants now allows recovery time for the root system. Also, plant as soon as possible and keep the root ball moist. Remove any twine or wire baskets to prevent damage or girdling. Always plant bare root plants like roses, fruit, and nut trees during dormancy, usually late winter to early spring.
Cheap plants aren’t always the best plants, so buy from a respectable retailer. In addition, each plant has an ideal growing condition. Do some research or ask your local Extension Agent about good plants for your area. Just because a plant is sold here doesn’t mean it does well in our climate. Also, think about where you will put the plant and how you want that plant to perform to suit your needs. Is it a specimen plant, a screen or privacy planting, for shade? Some plant tags may be universal and used throughout the U.S., so ask a salesperson about hardiness, water, soil, and light requirements. Keep in mind the size of the plant as well; the right plant in the right place.
Below are some suggestions for proper tree and shrub planting.
1.Dig the hole two times wider than the root ball diameter.
2.Plant the tree slightly above the natural grade of the soil.
3.Always handle the plant by the container or root ball, not the trunk.
4.Do not amend the planting hole. No peat moss, fertilizer, or other amendment should be placed directly into the hole with the plant.
5. Fill the hole with native soil and tamp the soil down around the plant.
6.Water completely and thoroughly to settle soil around the roots and eliminate air. Check the moisture every week and water as necessary.
7.Add a 2-3 inch deep layer of mulch around the base of newly planted trees and shrubs, but do not let it contact the trunk.
8.Never stake your tree. If you have to stake a tree, do it loosely so the tree can still sway.
Whether you want to add a new crape myrtle, are replacing a lost tree due to the drought or disease, or want to incorporate something new, choose wisely. A list of recommended trees and shrubs for Oklahoma can be found at oces.okstate.edu/cleveland/horticulture. Happy planting!