The next five or six weeks are the best time of the year to plant or transplant trees. It takes about two weeks for tree roots to get over transplant shock and to begin growing again. That leaves us at least four weeks of mild fall weather before mid-November when trees begin to enter dormancy and growth slows.
If you’re planting shade trees, the site for the new trees should have been chosen in mid-July when the angle of the sun is at its highest point in the sky. The shade cast now in September may not fall where you hoped it would next July when temperatures are the hottest, but you can try to adjust for the difference, keeping in mind that all trees should be planted at least 12 feet away from structures and fences.
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Check your soil type before you buy your new trees. Dig a hole about a foot deep in your chosen spot and fill the hole with water. Water takes much longer to drain from clay soil (at least 20 minutes) than sandy soil (five minutes or a little longer). If the water does not drain from the hole, it’s likely that there is a layer of hardpan blocking the drainage. The hardpan will need to be broken up with an augur or a pickaxe – or you’ll need to find another spot for the tree. That’s why we check the soil first; your first tree choice might not be suitable for another spot in the garden.
Your tree should have a well-balanced scaffolding with branches on all sides of the tree. It’s not always easy to find trees that also still have lower and secondary branches, but those lower branches (which can be removed after a couple of years) carry extra leaves that provide extra food for the growing tree and also provide shade for tender young bark.
Dig a planting hole for the tree that is twice as wide as the container but no deeper. Tree roots spread sideways and lie about 12 inches deep in the soil.
Your tree will naturally have more branches on one side – therefore more weight on that side. Our prevailing breeze and storm winds come from the west and northwest. Plant your new tree with the heavier side toward the wind. The windward side is also where two stakes should be placed at the outer edge of the planting hole after planting.
The native dirt from the tree’s planting hole is normally not amended. That’s because tree roots tend to stop extending where two different soil types (amended and unamended) meet. Add a cup of sulfur granules to help lower our high soil pH levels, but no additional fertilizers should be needed. Gently remove the tree roots from the container, dispose of the temporary potting medium elsewhere, spread the roots over a small cone of dirt in the hole then fill the hole halfway with soil, add water, then continue filling the hole with soil. The bottom of the trunk should be about an inch or two above soil level; the soil will settle within a couple of weeks so that the trunk bottom is lower than soil level. Irrigate again and then whenever the top inch or two of soil has dried.
Pound in sturdy stakes and tie the tree to them with soft ties that won’t cut the bark.
Send Elinor Teague plant questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.