JoAnne Skelly: It’s planting time!

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People look at me funny when I say, “Plant now,” in October. This is the best time of year to plant trees, shrubs and even perennials. While this goes against common sense with winter’s low temperatures coming, trust me, plant anyway.

Why? Because fall soils are warm, and perfect for root development. Our soils rarely freeze solid or deep. Often just the top 6-8 inches or so may freeze unless the temperatures drop uncommonly low. Although the top of a tree or shrub does go dormant in the fall, roots continue to grow. By the time a soil gets really cold, roots will have had weeks, maybe months to develop. This gives fall-planted trees or shrubs a head start over spring-planted specimens.

Trees planted in the fall can have twice as much new growth in the spring compared to spring-planted ones. With an established root system, they are tougher and can take more stress than a spring-planted tree. This is important since spring can be a changeable and challenging season for plants with warm weather one day and cold the next.

More good reasons to plant now are the fall plant sales! Nurseries want to reduce the stock of plants they have to maintain over winter, which is to your advantage. However, before you purchase plants, particularly trees, do some homework. Know how big they are going to get. Know how much water they will need. Find out if they leave messy fruit around to smear up decks, walks or patios. Look up whether they are prone to certain bugs. An ash tree, for example, almost always gets aphids. Aphids suck the sap out of leaves and excrete a sticky residue that rains down on everything under the tree. This sticky goo can damage cars; good to know before you plant. Sunset Western Garden Book is an excellent resource and most nurseries have one on site. Read up on your potential plant choices before you purchase. If you have internet on your phone, Google the tree or plant name for information.

It is critical to water your newly installed plants regularly. Soak the area all the round the new plant to the bottom of the root ball. Water again when the soil has dried out a few inches down from the surface. As the weather cools, irrigate less, but do keep the soil damp around new plants throughout the cold months.

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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