Planting season is most often associated with springtime. While that certainly coincides with much of nature’s schedule, fall is often a better time for tree planting. In fact, most ornamental perennial plants could benefit from planting in the autumn or early winter.
In Northwest Georgia, spring is predictably followed by hot, and often dry, summers. Plants that do not have a well-established root system when summer heat arrives may succumb to the stress, even if they are faithfully watered.
A thoughtful plan will increase the likelihood that trees will become a positive enhancement of the home landscape. The tree species selected should provide the desired visual effect, but also be appropriate for the site. Most trees prefer a well-drained site, and many flourish in full sun. Some trees, native dogwoods and redbud, for example, are understory plants and perform best in at least partial shade.
A common tree planting error is the failure to anticipate a tree’s mature size. Planting too close to buildings, other structures or other trees may ultimately require removal, a nuisance and cost that could have been avoided with planning. Consider the location of overhead and underground utilities as well. What will a mature tree look like if the local power company must trim it to keep it away from overhead power lines?
Trees available for planting at retail outlets will most likely be containerized and/or balled and burlapped. Plants with established roots provide a “head start” toward good establishment. Containerized trees should be planted in a hole three to four times wider than the root container. The side of the hole should slope inward like a bowl for the best root growth.
A bowl-shaped hole should also be prepared to plant balled and burlapped trees. The diameter of the hole should be two to three times wider than the root ball and as deep as the entire root ball. Avoid preparing planting holes that are unnecessarily deep but insufficiently wide. The root system of mature trees will be much wider than deep.
A less expensive alternative for tree planting is to use bare-root seedlings. While these plants are smaller and may require more time to mature, they can contribute to the landscape with a bit of patience. An excellent source for a wide variety of seedlings is the annual sale available from the Georgia Forestry Commission. Ordering begins in July but remains open. The first seedlings are delivered in December.
Seedlings can be supplied in hundreds or even thousands for forest plantings. Pine species available include loblolly, slash, longleaf and shortleaf, and genetically-improved varieties. Hardwood selections include several oak varieties and many ornamental, fruit and flowering species.
Homeowners can order as few as 10 seedlings. A special “pollinator pack” is popular for its bee-friendly qualities. Five seedlings each of dogwood, redbud and yellow poplar are included. Much more detail is available in the Seedling Brochure for 2020-21 which can be accessed on the Georgia Forestry Commission website (gatrees.org).
Installation of hedges should also be planned for the fall and requires planning just as careful as individual ornamentals. What is the intended outcome — privacy, boundary definition, shading? Choose plants adapted to site conditions that have appropriate mature size. Keep in mind that hedges may require more frequent maintenance (pruning) than trees. As with trees, consideration of mature size should direct the spacing at planting.
Josh Fuder, Cherokee County Extension coordinator and University of Georgia Extension horticulture specialist, and Sheri Dorn offer these suggestions of some of their favorite plants for hedges:
• Camellia has a 14-foot height, 8- to 12-foot width and requires full sun with afternoon shade. It's slow growing but offers fantastic blooms in winter to early spring, depending on the cultivar.
• Oak leaf holly has a 15- to 20-foot height, 8-foot width and requires full sun to part shade.
• American holly has a 15- to 30-foot height, 10- to 20-foot width and requires full sun to part shade. Winter wind may cause a problem with these hollies.
• Grey owl juniper has a 5- to 6-foot height, 4- to 6-foot width and requires full sun. It's a drought-resistant cultivar that has silver to gray foliage.
• Sweet viburnum has up to a 20-foot height and width and requires full sun to part shade. It makes a great informal hedge, and the flowers will attract butterflies and other pollinators.
• Leatherleaf viburnum has a 10- to 15-foot height and width and requires full sun to partial shade. Its late spring blooms attract butterflies.
Make plans now and enjoy a successful fall tree planting season.
Roger Gates is the agricultural and natural resources agent for University of Georgia Extension, Whitfield County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.