Fall planting before winter grips us

October 18, 2022

(Originally posted November 2020)

Though we’re late into the year and winter is creeping into view, it is never too early (or too late) to plant for next year. The soil is still a bit warm and it’s not frozen quite yet, which makes for perfect dormant tree and shrub planting. After all, dormant plantings require less care than plantings in warmer weather. Planting a host of native woody plants while dormant can actually be a great strategy, especially when planting smaller plants such 1 and 5 gallon. The stress of watering is nonexistent, and browse damage is lowered because the smaller plants attract less notice. But come spring they bud out and thrive as if you planted them straight out of the greenhouse. 

Here are a couple tips from us on planning and planting late in the season. 

Tip 1: Choosing what to plant while dormant is easier than you think!

Most native woody plant species respond very well to dormant season planting. Oaks, hickories, cherries, lindens and most native shrubs actually transplant better with a late season planting than they do in the spring. Starting around Labor Day all the way to mid-December yields great results for these species. It is still very important that you match the species as close to its native habitat as possible so it can flourish in your yard. Really, you just need to be as true to the plant as you can. There are a couple of species that you might want to steer clear of until next year, though. Evergreens, birch and maple need to be planted when temps in the air and soil are a bit warmer, typically no later than very early October for best results. Oh, and for those of you thinking about Hackberry, you’re going to get tip die back. It’s a feature of the genus (Celtis) until they get a little larger. Usually it’s nothing to worry about.

Tip 2: Plan on making your planting hole a bit bigger (wider that is) than you might normally for a spring or summer planting.

You still want to have good root-to-soil contact and have the root collar slightly above soil level, but having a wider hole will help minimize frost heave. You know, the thing that chucks late season perennials out of the ground like cannon balls. The wider hole means softer earth around the plant, and the freeze/thaw action will be spread out over a wider area. This also allows a bit more moisture in to the root zone, which helps it not to dry out too much. 

Tip 3: Mulch! Mulch! Mulch!

When plating late in the season, be sure to add a bit of extra mulch to the planting. If you normally use 2”, then 3” might be a practice to consider. Mulch insulates the root zone from wild temperature changes and can decompose the following year to add nutrients to the soil, which is good! Chips, the regular kind, are best. For those of you that use other commercial options, we would recommend that you not. Cedar can slow root growth, dyed chips don’t decompose properly and rubber is. . . . . . why? Well, it doesn’t decompose for one thing. I’m sure there are other reasons, too.

Tip 4: Be sure to fence in your plant to keep out the critters.

Fencing is a recommendation I can’t stress enough for those of you with “browsers.” It’s not as taxing of an endeavor as you might think. 1 and 5 gallon material can be protected by 3’ chicken wire very well. Depending on plant size, only 3 to 6 linear feet of wire is usually needed to get the job done. You can also fence more than one plant into plant prediction areas, but that will need more wire. Make sure that you stake it with rebar or lath. I have tried to use the sprays in place of fencing, and it has failed me because I missed reapplying it after a rain. Plus, deer seem to think of the sprays more like hot sauce on wings rather than a deterrent. 

Tip 5: Plant late to enjoy your outdoor space.

Planting is something that can connect us to something bigger and keep the late season blues at bay for just a bit longer. Look, 2020 has been a lot of things, but it shouldn’t darken as much as the lack of afternoon sun does at 5 pm around here. With all that has kept us apart and inside, just adding life to your yard can brighten our souls and make spring something to look forward to. Plus, a tree or shrub planting with the family for the holidays is a great safe alternative to a big indoor gathering.

Now I’m sure that I have missed a couple points, and I have kept certain opinions I have from this list. I can be bombastic. So if you have further questions about plants you can plant late in the year, please call our office, and I will do all I can to get you a plant to make the coming year a bit brighter. Stay safe and plant more!