Master Gardener: Fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs | Home & Garden

Tom Ingram Ask the Master Gardener

“I want to add a couple of shrubs to my yard. When is the best time

While it may seem counterintuitive, fall is the best time to plant most trees and shrubs. I say now because some plants such as crapemyrtles do best when planted in the heat of summer. However, those plants are the exception to the rule, making our upcoming fall the best time of year to plant trees and shrubs in your landscape. Here’s why.

If this summer has taught us anything, it’s that plants need water. And to be able to absorb that water, plants need a healthy root system. Planting a tree or shrub in the fall is best because this allows the plant to work on developing a healthy root system throughout the fall, winter and early spring to get ready for our Oklahoma summers.

This doesn’t mean you can’t plant trees and shrubs at other times during the year. It just means that you are going to be spending a lot more time watering since they won’t have had the winter to work on developing a root system. Planting in the fall gives them a better chance at adapting to your landscape.

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Trees and shrubs are available in three different ways: bare root, container-grown, and balled and burlapped. You may be familiar with bare-root trees as those you might order from a catalog or receive at some tree give-away. Bare-root trees need to be planted from mid-February to mid-April. It’s critical to keep the roots of bare-root trees moist until they are planted.

Most of us are probably going to purchase trees and shrubs that are either container grown, or something called balled and burlapped. Container-grown trees and shrubs were grown in a container, so they have a fully developed root system within that container.

Balled and burlapped trees have been grown in the soil and then dug up with a large claw-like device attached to a tractor. During this process, this device digs into the ground to remove the plant, cutting away all the roots outside the radius of the device. Because of this, they will need to re-establish a functional root system.

If you do need to plant a tree or shrub during spring or summer, you might prioritize container-grown plants since they will have an easier time adjusting to their new surroundings. Balled and burlapped will really appreciate being planted in the fall so they can work on that root system all winter.

The planting technique for both is essentially the same.

After selecting your tree or shrub, the first thing to do is dig a hole. To give them their best shot at survival, you should dig the hole about three times wider than the existing root ball. The reason we recommend this is pretty simple. New roots will grow best in soil that is not compacted, and you will likely discover that your soil is compacted while digging. This will take a little extra effort, but it will also increase your plant’s ability to integrate itself into its new home.

Although you want to dig the hole wider than the root ball, you don’t want to dig deeper than the depth of the root ball. Leaving the soil under the root ball intact will help to minimize settling. Also, it is good for the top of the root ball to remain a little above the level of the surrounding soil. This will help prevent the creation of a small pond around your tree after the dirt settles. If you are planting a balled and burlapped tree, you should remove the burlap and twine before planting.

After you have your tree in the hole at the proper depth, it’s time to fill in the hole. Be sure to back fill with soil that came out of the hole. There is no need to add compost or amendments. You want your new resident to get used to the soil where it’s been planted, not some super soil around its roots.

Once it has been planted, you’ll want to add some mulch around your plant. Mulch will help retain moisture in the soil, which, again, will aid in root development. If your tree or shrub is large enough or perhaps in a location that is windy, you may need to stake it. If this is the case, be sure to attach the supports loosely because you want to give it room to grow. Also, the ability to move a little helps to strengthen young trees.

After you have done all this, it’s time to water. You’ll need to make sure your new resident gets about an inch of water each week throughout the fall and winter whether from rain or your efforts. Following these steps will help you enjoy your new tree or shrub for years to come. See you in the garden.

Four plants that will create a private backyard

You can get answers to all your gardening questions by calling the Tulsa Master Gardeners Help Line at 918-746-3701, dropping by our Diagnostic Center at 4116 E. 15th St. or by emailing us at