Fall tree planting project, part 1: Choosing a tree

by Caroline Brown

Sorry that I haven’t blogged in a few days–I’m visiting my family in North Carolina and it’s not very easy to blog sans broadband. But, here goes, it’s late and hopefully no one needs the phone. Sorry …no broadband means no photo, even though tree posts always provide the best blog photo opps. I’ll be back to a more normal schedule this weekend….but in the meantime I wanted to get some info out about planting trees.

It might seem counterintuitive, but the late summer/early fall season is a great time to plant trees. That’s because trees are beginning their dormant period, and soil temperatures that are warmer than air temperatures create an ideal environment for root development. One of the most important steps is choosing the tree.

  • Make sure to buy a tree that will grow in your US Hardiness Zone–Check here if you don’t know what zone you’re in. You’ll probably be wasting your money if you plant a tree that’s only hardy to zone 4 if you live in zone 6.
  • Learn about diseases that plague the type of tree you want to buy and choose disease resistant tree varieties. Many varieties of elm resist Dutch elm disease; some varieties of dogwood are more resistant to anthracnose than others; and some types of apple and crabapple trees are more resistant to rusts than others. Ask your nursery to help you find a disease-resistant strain, or ask your county agricultural extension agent.
  • You can learn a lot about the tree by examining it in the nursery. Choose a straight, symmetrical tree with an appropriate shape for the species and attractively spaced branches. Look for a tree with a single leader (trunk), and avoid trees whose branches have been “headed back”—that is, the ends of all the branches have been cut off. Any pruning cuts should have properly healed.
  • Look at the tree’s crotches. Don’t be perverted–that’s the place where the branches connect to the trunk. There should be at least a 45 degree angle between the two. Tree crotches that are angled into a deep V-shape more likely to have growing problems and eventually, the branch may break.
  • Check the bark of the tree and make sure it’s free from cuts, scrapes, blisters, cracks or any other sign of injury or disease.
  • Should you get a tree that’s potted, or one that’s balled and burlapped? Potted trees have the advantage of having all their roots intact. However, they have a higher likelihood of encircling roots, a condition where the trees roots have outgrown its container and circle the tree instead. Choose trees that have the least amount of encircling roots. Balled and burlapped trees were grown in the nursery’s field, dug from the ground by an extractor. The root ball is then wrapped in burlap to keep it intact. Their advantage is that they don’t have encircling roots, but because they were dug from their original site, they may have lost up to 60 percent of their original root mass.

My next post will describe how to handle, site, plant the tree and how to take care of it after it’s planted.

Parts of this article originally appeared in the Kent County Daily Times.


5 Comments to “Fall tree planting project, part 1: Choosing a tree”

  1. Wow, dial-up, does this still exist??? Glad to see a post Caroline, hope that things are going ok.

    This is something in the gardening field that I am actually aware of. Here on the Prairies, gardening centers are very busy this time of year, people picking out trees and shrubs to plant, before the winter sets in. It does seem like a strange time of year to be planting anything though.

    You’ve been tagged btw….

    See you soon. G

  2. Greetings! Thanks so much for the tree tips – I am looking forward to reading more! Enjoy NC. 🙂

  3. Dear Expert,

    I live in Louisville KY and just bought the house I’ll be in for the next 30 years (I hope). My wife & I want fruit trees ASAP (like yesterday). What are the best for this region, fastest to produce with the least amount of pampering? Red Delicious Apples?

  4. Hi Kevin, there is an old saying that the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago! 🙂 Give me a couple of days and I’ll do some research on fast growing trees and let you know. Thanks!

  5. FYI, you seem to have mixed up your zones. Higher numbers are warmer, lower numbers colder. So you should have said you be wasting your money buying a tree that’s only hardy to zone 6 if you live in zone 4. You stated the opposite.


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