Fall planting pays off with showy spring displays

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Every gardener hopes to have plants bursting into bloom and leafing out in magnificent splendor in the spring. Now is a great time to plant to ensure a showy spring display.

Fall is the best planting time for trees, shrubs and perennials, if proper care is given. The warm soil will allow new roots to develop through the cold winter months. Established root systems give fall-planted items a great head start over spring-planted ones. Because the weather is cooler, plants won't struggle with heat stress and gardeners won't have to water as often as during the warmer months.

When shopping for trees and shrubs to plant, look for healthy ones that show no signs of insects or diseases. Make sure the roots are not pot-bound. Trees should have strong, straight trunks.

Choose a site large enough to allow the plant to grow to maturity. Soils that are compacted or have had heavy machinery on them need to be loosened over the entire area to a depth of 15 inches to 18 inches. New plants will need water once planted and every two to four weeks through the fall and winter when no precipitation is received.

Dig a hole that is no deeper than the root ball and three to five times as wide. A wider hole gives roots good room to grow. Place the soil removed from the hole aside to use as backfill in the hole later. Soil amendments have not been shown to offer any consistent advantage.

Fill the hole with water to test for adequate drainage. The water should drain from the hole overnight or at least one-half inch per hour. If it doesn't, either find a new planting site or install a designed drain. Waterlogged soils will rot roots.

Remove the container, plastic, burlap and wire basket from the plant and place it in the hole. The top of the root ball should be at grade, or level with the top of the soil. If the plant has been grafted, face the graft to the north. Tease the roots out and away from the root ball surface, spreading them out in the hole. Backfill the hole with the soil that was removed when digging it. Lightly tamp down the soil as you fill the hole to remove air pockets. Water the area thoroughly.

Add 3 inches to 4 inches of mulch to the entire planting area, keeping it 6 inches away from the trunk. Pruning is not needed unless branches are rubbing or damaged.

For information on staking trees or other gardening topics, contact me at (775) 887-2252 or skellyj@unce.unr.edu, or your local University of Nevada Cooperative Extension office. Check out many useful horticulture publications at www.unce.unr.edu. "Ask a Master Gardener" at mastergardeners@unce.unr.edu

- JoAnne Skelly is the Carson City/Storey County Extension educator for University of Nevada Cooperative Extension.


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