For 40 years, The Morton Arboretum’s Plant Clinic has helped the local community and green industry tackle tough plant questions. Free of charge, the Plant Clinic is a great resource for a wide variety of plant-related issues, including selection of trees, shrubs and other plants appropriate for the Midwest, diagnosing and managing insect and disease problems, and general plant care. Have plant questions for this column? Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Q: We have always planted in the spring, but would like to add a few trees and shrubs to our landscape this fall. Is fall a good time to plant?
A: In the fall, many trees and shrubs are easing into dormancy, and it’s a superb time for fall planting. The cooler temperatures make it more pleasant to work in the garden, while the warm soil temperatures and cooler air give the plant a chance to develop new root growth. Meanwhile, because of the cooling weather, the plant loses less water and has a better chance of establishing itself before winter.
Ideally the best time for fall planting is from September until the end of October before the weather gets too cold. This does not mean you can’t plant later, but there will be little or no root growth occur until next spring due to the cooler weather. If winter is severe, the newly planted tree or shrub will struggle to survive.
Hardy trees and shrubs that respond well to fall planting include maple, linden, oak, hackberry, lilac, viburnum and red twig dogwood. Evergreens, such as pine, spruce, yew and juniper can also be planted in the fall. Trees that are more susceptible to winter damage or take longer to develop an adequate root system should be planted in the spring. These include birch, elms, redbud, magnolia, Japanese maple, rhododendron and tuliptree.
After planting, water thoroughly and continue to supply an inch of water per week to newly planted trees and shrubs until the ground freezes. This is especially important for evergreens since they do not go completely dormant in winter and need to store enough moisture in roots to replenish water lost throughout the winter.
Apply a three-to-four inch layer of woodchips over the root zone to conserve moisture and moderate soil temperature fluctuations. Do not let mulch rest against the bark.
About The Morton Arboretum
The Morton Arboretum is an internationally recognized outdoor tree museum on 1,700 acres. Plant collections, scientific research and education programs support the mission to plant and conserve trees and other plants for a greener, healthier and more beautiful world. Designed with natural landscapes, the grounds include the award-winning, four-acre interactive Children’s Garden, the one-acre Maze Garden, plus specialty gardens, 16 miles of trails and nine miles of roads. Visitor experiences include the open-air tram ride, guided walks, Arbor Day celebrations, concerts, art shows, Fall Color Festival, and special exhibits. The Arboretum welcomes more than 800,000 visitors annually and serves more than 35,600 members. Located 25 miles west of Chicago in Lisle, Illinois, the Arboretum is open daily 7 a.m. until sunset. Learn more at mortonarb.org.