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Trees, anyone?

Updated: Apr 19

Most nursery professionals know that the very best time to plant trees is in the Fall season. During Fall months the sun can no longer stress out the roots as they try to meet the needs of the tree. Fall is also the time when plants regroup and getting a tree in the ground between October and January is ideal for them. When the season is cool and the environmental moisture is high, trees and other plants spend their energy on establishing their root systems. Observant gardeners know when their plants are about to "Spring" because they can see the trunks and buds swelling up in February and March. That swelling is caused by reinforced root systems pushing water and nutrients above ground. You gotta have robust roots to have robust plants!

HOWEVER...most consumers do not think about planting trees in the Fall. In fact, everybody wants to garden in the Spring, but Summer heat crushes that desire, and by Fall folks are distracted by 1,000 holidays, family events, school calendars...planting just does not make the priority list for many of us.

So, Garden Centers wanting to make a profit, sell their trees when people are in the best mood to buy them. It's not really a problem, it just means that trees planted in the Spring need a little more TLC in order to survive their first Summer. They have not been given the advantage of a dormant season to get their subterranean parts lined out.

The month of April is the latest I recommend for folks to plant trees before Summer in East Texas. I always prefer to plant in the Fall, but planting through the end of April is still perfectly acceptable for a successful planting. The following are the steps I think should be taken for "late" Spring plantings of trees - especially Fruit trees, if you want them to succeed.

  1. Know your soil and micro-climate. Every spot on your property is it's own little world. Sun & wind exposure depend on adjacent structures and vegetation. East Texas Soils can change from loose & sandy to heavy clay, to hard & rocky in just a matter of a few feet. The surface is not always a good indicator of what your tree will be working with below the grass. Dig a hole, take a look, and hold the soil in your hand. What advantages and disadvantages does that specific location present to your new tree?

  2. Planting depth is determined by soil density. I presented a sketch in the past on this blog where I show folks my preferred planting scheme based on what kind of soil I find. If you are not sure, then err on the side of planting a little shallow and mound the soil up to the crown of the root ball. Faster drainage is MUCH easier to account for than slow drainage.

  3. Bound roots need to be cut or straightened. If a tree has lived in a plastic pot for too long it becomes "root bound". That means the roots that would naturally stretch out in every direction looking for water and nutrients have instead hit the plastic wall and then started circling around and around the pot. If this does not get addressed at the time of planting then you have just planted a tree waiting to die. Those encircled roots will only get thicker and eventually they choke the tap root or trunk of the tree and kill it. This happens all the time.

  4. Organic fertilizers are best for mixing in the soil before you plant. Chemical fertilizers are most often laden with salts and even the slow-release types can burn roots if not installed correctly. I opt for bone meal, kelp meal, blood meal, and green-sand mixed in with the soil before replanting. These natural products have N.P.K. numbers in the single-digit ranges and are MUCH less likely to harm your plants. You will never need much. Do some research before guessing and trust me when I say "less is more" when it comes to in-ground fertilizers at planting time.

  5. STAKE YOUR TREES. This step is NOT optional. East Texas gets high winds and lots of raining in the Spring. Rain saturates the looser oil around newly-planted trees and the high winds grab the leaves like a sail. This is quite often the reason young trees die in their first season after planting. The wind grabs that trunk and whips it around ripping at the fragile roots just below the soil line. If those roots get severed your tree is seriously damaged and it may never recover. There is often no obvious sign as to why the tree failed. But if you were to dig the tree up and perform an autopsy you would see how the important roots in the first 3" of soil were torn from the trunk. This is a very common mistake.

  6. Water slowly, deeply, regularly, but NOT often. Grass roots are found in the top 4-6" of soil so a light rain or a few minutes of sprinkler time is usually enough to keep grass alive. Tree roots go wider and nearly as deep as the tree is tall. A light rain shower is simply NOT enough water to reach below the surface where the tree roots actually live. Established trees have LOTS of roots that are spread far and wide and can gather up what rain soaks in to the ground. However, baby trees have all of their roots balled up in one little spot that is mostly vertical. Some folks install perforated pipe or irrigation tubes when they plant trees that allow them to water the bottom of the root ball from above ground. (I just end up hitting these with my mower.) My preference is to assign each new tree it's very own 5 gallon watering bucket. (See blog post about redneck watering hack). This method allows me to know exactly how much water each tree gets and to make sure that it gets watered slowly enough so that the water truly soaks in to the full depth of the roots. It's so easy to do.

  7. Know your Tree. All of the good advice provided above can not guarantee success if you choose the wrong trees to plant in your yard. Where I live in Union Grove is officially Zone 8a. If that means nothing to you then I suggest you visit this LINK and find out what USDA planting Zones are all about. I don't get to just plant a Hass avocado tree and expect it to survive my winters - It makes ZERO difference how badly I want to grow Hass Avocados! Sure, your cousin in Florida may have great success with her loquat trees...but those are going to struggle here. It's possible to cultivate them, but it will cost you time and effort and fruit is not guaranteed. Research before you buy.

Finally, I will leave you with a shameless plug:

I have gathered together a handful of great fruit trees that all do well in East Texas and I will have them available for purchase this Saturday, April 20th between 9am and 2pm. I have some peaches, plums, apples, persimmons, pomegranates, and even olives. I have a single Mexicola avocado for those brave enough to commit to such a relationship. It is the hardiest of all avocado trees, but it will require some personal sacrifice. My fruit trees are all locally grown, reasonably priced, and ready to go into the ground ASAP.

I will also have a few 5 gallon "Bloodgood" Japanese Maple trees. (IYKYK)

What does not sell on the 20th will be taken off the market until this Fall.

Those babies will need special care all Summer long and that is one of those chores that always makes me question my decision to start a nursery...

Last call, everybody!

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Checking to see if you have any red plum trees? My sister wants one for her Birthday.

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