Summers are fun, but often busy. Fall is the time when life slows down a little and people find themselves with more free time and spend more time at home.

The summer slow-down means harvesting edibles, cleaning up the garden, and planning for next year. A happy coincidence: fall is also an ideal time to plant ornamental trees and shrubs and get them established for next year’s growing season.

Hydrangea

Hydrangea. Photo by KENPEI, Wikimedia Commons

The air is cooler in fall and the soil is still warm, creating less stress for the plant. Though trees and shrubs can be planted quite late into the fall (it’s best if ground temperature is above 55 degrees), earlier is still better so the plant has time to establish a good root system. Fall is also usually rainy, providing adequate moisture for plants to go into winter.

Although nature does a lot of work for us, there are still some important guidelines to follow to ensure proper planting and a healthy, happy tree or shrub many years.

Here’s what you need to know in 10 easy steps.

  1. Make sure the potted tree or shrub is well-watered. It must go into the ground wet.
  2. Dig a hole two to three times as wide (the tag will tell you), but only as deep, as the root ball. Planting too deep and allowing the trunk to sit below the soil level will cause the trunk to rot.
  3. Lay the container on its side and gently press all the way around to help the root ball lift easily out of the container. Be careful not to rip the roots.
  4. Release some of the roots. This will either be by simply using your fingers to gently pull at the roots, or if the root system is extensive and circling the container, they may need to be scored. Cut the roots on the underside (the part that rested on the bottom of the pot) in an X shape. Cut four vertical lines on the sides of the root ball. A sturdy, serrated knife works well. Then use your fingers to release a few roots.
  5. Water the hole.
  6. Set the plant in the hole and backfill halfway with soil, then tamp down to steady the plant.
  7. Water the soil in the hole.
  8. Backfill the rest of the way, tamp down, and water again. Air pockets left in the soil will dry out the roots, so tamp well.
  9. Mulch the soil 2 to 3 inches deep and 3 feet around the plant, but don’t mulch right up to the trunk. Stake trees that have small stems until they become stronger.
  10. Keep the tree well-watered during the first growing season. Don’t water to the point of standing water.
Weigela by Tonkadale Greenhouse

Weigela. Photo by Qwert 1234, Wikimedia Commons

Be sure to continue watering deeply if rainfall is inadequate. Trees and shrubs must be watered right up to the ground freezing, even if they’ve already lost their leaves, to be able to withstand the drying winter winds. For more information, visit the U of M Extension website.

Tonkadale carries a wide variety of ornamental shrubs to enhance the landscape, including hydrangea, dogwood, smoke bush, burning bush, ninebark and weigela. We also carry ornamental trees, including hydrangea, ninebark, magnolia and river birch.

Take a look at your outdoor living space — do you have the perfect spot for a new ornamental tree or shrub? Bet you do!