With the arrival of fall, and finally some cooler weather in the Central Texas area, I have had the itch to get out in the yard. The question is, “where do you start?” A great place to start is with planting trees. Although they are a big investment, the return you get from them is priceless. Not only do they provide shade, habitat for animals, wind breaks, and oxygen for us to breathe they also increase the value of your home. Right now is the best time of the year to plant woody shrubs, trees, and even perennials. The idea is to get them in the ground while the moderately cooler weather is more forgiving to the plant (and to us). Even though the tree might go dormant up top, the plant is still producing roots below all winter. This allows the plant to establish a good root system before the summer heat sets in the next year. This method gives trees and plants the jump start they need to survive our hot summer months.
When planting, be sure to stake your trees for the first year, do not plant too deep (keep top of root ball 1-2” above soil grade), apply a good three inch layer of hardwood mulch being careful to pull the mulch away from the base of the tree, amend your back-fill soil with 30% compost, and fertilize your trees in spring and fall. I do not recommend using tree fertilizer spikes. I do recommend using a product at planting that contains spores of beneficial bacteria, mycorrhizal fungi, and slow release fertilizers. These fungi are natural, beneficial fungi that help with water conservation, fertilizer uptake, and root growth. Take to time to amend your soil at the time of planting, this is very important for the long term health of your tree.
The biggest mistake that people make is watering incorrectly. Do not rely on an overhead sprinkler irrigation system to water your new trees. Trees need to be deeply watered during their first year, and even subsequent years during periods of low rainfall. When watering by hand, give trees a slow deep watering. Try to soak the whole area under the canopy each time you water. Do not assume that if it rains a little you do not need to water. As for a watering schedule, a good rule of thumb is:
- 90-100 degrees – water every day
- 80-90 degrees – water every other day
- 50-80 degrees- water twice a week
- Even in winter, water newly planted trees at least once a week
Clay and other soils may not require as much water as indicated above. Overwatering or trees staying to wet can be as damaging as trees being too dry. The best way to check for soil moisture is to dig down under the mulch 3 or 4 inches and feel if the soil is moist. One word of caution, DO NOT USE WEED AND FEED TYPE FERTILIZERS anywhere nearby trees! These products can severely stunt or even kill your trees and are very detrimental to beneficial soil biology. This applies to both mature and young trees and even shrubs and perennials. If you wish to control weeds in the lawn, use a pre-emergent herbicide applied twice a year on February 15th and September 15th. These are safer for trees and woody shrubs and if applied religiously they are very effective at preventing weeds from ever germinating.