Trees and shrubs should be planted in the fall and winter months, instead of waiting until spring. The plants are dormant during this time and less apt to be injured by shock from planting. Also, the weather and moisture during this period are ideal for plant establishment as well as good working weather for the gardener. Planting in the winter allows the plants time to become established prior to spring growth and bloom, and prior to summer heat. Research shows that roots of a plant continue to grow and develop during the winter, even though the above ground part of the plant remains dormant. You will also find that your nurseryman has a good stock of plants during the fall and winter, and too, he can give you more time and attention during this season, whereas he can’t during the spring rush.
Before going out to buy plants, study your site and have some idea what kind of plants would best fit your landscape needs. For example, if you need to shade your patio or window on the west side of your home, look for a fast growing tree with a broad spreading canopy. Ask the salesperson about the growth requirements of the plants you plant to buy. Do the plants require special soil (azaleas require acid soil)? Do the plants have serious insect and disease problems which will require routine spraying? Be sure the plants you select are tolerant of your local weather conditions. Just because a plant can be purchased at your local plant shop doesn’t guarantee that it will tolerate the summer heat or the winter cold in your area.
Inspect plants closely and don’t’ purchase those with an unhealthy appearance or weak, poorly formed, scarred, or cracked trunks or branches. Don’t purchase trees with double leaders or with main branches clustered together on the trunk. Leaves of abnormal size or with excessive yellowing are an indication of a plant health problem. Also examine plants for insects, diseases and mechanical damage.
After you have inspected the above ground portion of a plant, examine its root system. The root system of a container-grown plant should be well established so that the root ball stays intact when the container is removed; the plant should not be root-bound. Root-bound plants have a mass of roots circling near the outside surface of the container medium and max present difficulty in establishment in the landscape. Although cutting or breaking up the root ball during planting has been recommended in the past, there is not strong scientific evidence to support the benefit of this practice. The best recommendation is not to invest your money and effort in a root-bound plant.
Equally as important as selecting good plants is proper planting procedure. The planting procedure is the same for vines, shrubs, and trees. Dig the planting hole one foot wider and as deep as the root ball is tall. In some cases where the soil is hard or compacted, it may be advisable to dig a planting hole three times wider than the container and half as deep. Then mound the soil to cover the sides of the root ball. A plant installed in the manner might require more frequent irrigation during dry periods, but is not likely to suffer from subsurface drainage problems.
Carefully remove the plant from the container. Gently place the plant straight in the hole and be sure the top of the root ball is no deeper than the existing landscape soil surface. Fill around the ball with soil and gently firm the soil. The common practice of adding organic matter such as peat to the soil that is placed around the root ball is highly recommended.
The success or failure of a plant often depends on whether the plants receive adequate moisture. The construction of a saucer-like basin around the plant from the extra backfill soil will aid watering by holding the water until it drains down to the plant’s roots.