Fall a good time to plant a tree

October 14, 2008

Fall is a wonderful time to plant a tree. They are getting ready to go dormant for the winter and suffer less stress than trees planted in the spring. They take less water to establish and less work to manage.

What is the best way to plant a tree? First, dig a hole that's as deep as the root ball and twice as wide.

Remove the tree from its container or remove the burlap, string and wire around balled and burlapped trees. Loosen the roots lightly (especially any that are winding around the root ball) and place the tree in the hole, handling it by the root ball, not the trunk.

Add soil to the planting hole to bring it to the same level it was around the tree in the container or balled and burlapped ball. You don't need to add compost or peat moss to the soil, but can add small amounts to enhance drainage.


Gently firm the soil around the tree to fill in air pockets and hold it in place. Settle it with water and add more soil to reach the correct level. Tamping the soil with your foot isn't necessary and compacts the soil. Build up a ridge of soil around the edge of the planting hole to create a water reservoir.

New trees rarely need staking. The natural sway of trees actually stimulates good root growth. However, if a new tree is in a very windy site, you can stake it with two or three wires padded with a length of hose to protect the tree's bark. Remove the stakes within a year to avoid damage.

Mulch your newly planted tree with a natural material such as shredded bark or chopped leaves. Use two to three inches of mulch to conserve water, suppress weeds and limit temperature fluctuations.

Water your new tree deeply when you first plant it and once a week until the first penetrating frost around Thanksgiving. Use a slow trickle from a hose or a bucket with small holes punched in the bottom. Soak the root ball, watering for about an hour for a small tree if you are using a hose.

In the spring, pick up the weekly watering again for a few months to give your tree a great start.

How to become a Master Gardener

Do you enjoy gardening? Do you love to learn? Do you like sharing what you know? Then you could be a Master Gardener.

Master Gardeners are volunteer educators with the Maryland Cooperative Extension. They teach people safe, effective ways to garden that build healthier gardens and communities.

Master Gardeners work in historic gardens and therapeutic gardens. They answer gardening questions at plant clinics. They teach children and adults the joys of gardening through talks and hands-on activities. Most importantly, Master Gardeners turn their gift for gardening into gifts to the community.

We are now accepting applications for the Master Gardener Class of 2009. The 40-hour training sessions - led by University experts - will be every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. from Feb. 11 to April 8. It's a Horticulture 101 class that covers the basics from bugs to botany, weeds to wildlife management.

If you're ready for a new gardening adventure, call, write or e-mail me to request more information and an application for the Master Gardener program.

Annette Ipsan is the Extension educator for horticulture and the Master Gardener program in Washington County for the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension. She can be reached weekdays by telephone at 301-791-1604, or by e-mail at

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