As the old Chinese proverb goes:
The Best Time to Plant a Tree Was 20 years Ago. The Second Best Time is Now!
It rings true at any given time. With summer almost behind us, take advantage of continued warmer weather and plant trees and shrubs. The warm ground will encourage newer root growth before completely going dormant as it starts to cool for winter.
As we approach Thanksgiving, temperatures generally begin cooling off (– we hope they do!). Ground temperatures do not equal above ground temperatures. For example, temperatures above ground can read 45 degrees while just below the ground surface it is a comfy 55.
The biggest temperature changes come about when regular temps are below 30 degrees for 4+ days and nights as the surface (upper few inches) of the ground has a tendency to freeze. Unless there is rainfall or snow, the surface of the ground will dry out.
A good layer of shredded bark mulch around the base of the planting will keep the ground temperatures more stable so if above ground temperatures fluctuate, it doesn’t affect the soil surrounding the plant.
Be sure to extend the mulch about 18 to 24 inches from the base of the plant like a doughnut and create a swelled area of about 3 to 4 inches wide at the immediate plant so mulch doesn’t touch the plants bark or trunk. This is also an excellent space to water your plant so water is directed straight down to the root system.
While, planting trees and shrubs in fall requires less watering, but it does require watering. The soil doesn’t need to dry out completely around the plant for any extended time such as 4 or more days, especially within the first 3 to 4 weeks after planting.
Check the soil around your fall plantings every 3 days during the following 2 to 3 weeks after planting. Of course, this also depends on your specific location and your soil. Fast draining soil may need checking every 2 days while clay soil areas every 3 to 4 days.
Plants can be watered most any time throughout the winter months. Only it is pointless to water when the ground surface is frozen (not a frost – actually frozen from continued day and night temperatures below freezing).
Straw is also another good way to keep moisture in the ground so there is less drying. It is an excellent choice for protecting strawberry plants. It decomposes over the winter months adding organic matter to the soil. Any remaining straw in spring can be tossed in the compost, tilled into the soil or just left where it is for the plants.
We strongly recommend mulching with organic materials such as shredded bark mulch, straw, aged compost or aged manure mix which all will decompose into the soil.
Steer away from mulching with inorganic materials such as rocks, rubber chips, plastic, and other non-penetrable fabrics as they can cause more problems than not. Generally they inhibit water from getting into the soil, limit natural evaporation often creating mold and mildew and rocks will leach limestone into the soil just to list a few.
Fall still remains THE best time for planting trees and shrubs!