Soil and water

Davis: Planting trees in the fall is best | Way of life

If you’re looking to plant trees or shrubs, fall is definitely our best time to plant. When planted in the fall, trees and shrubs have the most time possible to establish themselves before our typically hot, dry summers. Research trials and worlds of experience have proven this time and time again.

So while you can wait like some do until spring with gardening fever, establishing woody plants well before they hit our tough summer season is a far better bet.

Regardless of when you plant, determine the drainage and suitability of your soil for the tree you wish to plant. Poorly drained soils where water can remain will not be a good choice for planting most fruit trees such as peach, pear, fig, and pecan.

You can test your soil’s drainage with a simple percolation test. Dig a hole 1 foot deep, fill with water and see how long it takes to drain. If the water level drops slower than 1 inch per hour, the drainage is poor.

Always check underground utilities before digging. A phone call to 811 from anywhere in Texas will route your call to a state service that will alert homeowners to underground pipes, phone lines, water/sewer, and power lines. Local utility technicians will mark your property with flags within two business days of the request. There is no charge to you for this service and people are often surprised to find out where utilities are buried and not located on their property.

Do not plant anything over 15 feet tall under a power line. Moving away from power lines makes for a safer tree that will look better in its natural form.

Begin the planting process by removing vegetation and mulch from the site at least six inches beyond the proposed hole or bed. Research has shown that removing vegetation and mulching up to three feet from the trunk will double the growth rate. More importantly, it keeps weed eaters and mower decks from harming tender young tree trunks.

For normal planting in well-drained soil, the hole for an individual plant should be at least one and a half to two times the width of the root ball and only as deep as the root ball or soil mass. Look carefully for the soil line in which the tree originally grew. Discoloration of bark near ground level of bare root plants indicates ground level.

Do not dig the hole deeper than the root ball. Digging a hole too deep can cause the plant to settle deeper than grow better. If the top of the root ball is placed below the surface of the surrounding soil, even just three inches, water can collect in the planting hole, causing a lack of oxygen for the roots.

In poorly drained or compacted soil, make a hole three to four times wider than the root ball and not as deep as the root ball.

Modifying backfill when planting trees and shrubs has been debated for decades. In all but exceptional circumstances where the soil is very poor, extensive research has shown that it is not necessary to incorporate amendments, fertilizers, living organisms, water retention gels, humic acids or organics in the fill soil. Just use the loosened soil that came out of the planting hole. Loosen and break up large clods and remove large stones before backfilling.

The exception to not adding backfill amendments is when the existing soil is so poor that all soil in the area must be replaced with good quality soil. Incorporating organic matter when planting in very sandy or gravelly soils will also increase water holding capacity.

The last two steps after planting are to water the tree well and add mulch. There are countless air pockets in the soil that dry out the roots. A good soak will eliminate them and give the tree a healthy start. Adding organic mulch to a maximum depth of three inches (when installed) at a large diameter will make the tree much easier to establish.