By Debbie Gardner
SOMERS, Conn. – When it comes to freshening up their landscape with new trees and shrubs, most people think “spring.”
But those in the know say consumers should contemplate such home improvements at the other end of the growing season.
According to Toree Kluntz, nursery supervisor at Pell Farms on Kibbe Grove Road, the next few weeks are a far better time to make those landscape additions. The gradually cooling days and nights of late summer and early fall, she said, actually present a less-stressful environment for new plantings.
“Sometimes in the spring you get too much rain, or not enough, then it gets really hot and humid,” Kluntz said. “It really doesn’t help the plants.”
Though the sun’s strength is waning and the nights are getting chilly, Kluntz said the ground still offers new plantings an optimum growing environment, usually up to the middle of October.
“The soil is still warm, 5 to 6 inches down the [temperature] is still 55 to 60 degrees, warm enough for roots to get established,” she said, adding that the more predictable fall rains mean “you don’t have to water [plantings] as much.”
The promise of several weeks of prime planting time doesn’t mean homeowners should drag their feet, however. Kluntz said the sooner those new trees and shrubs get added to your landscape, the better the chance they will thrive come spring.
“It really depends [on weather],” Kluntz said. “Once we start getting frost at night, the ground starts freezing. You want to give [new plantings] a couple of weeks before the ground gets frozen so the root can get established.”
Give them a good start
Kluntz said adding a new tree or shrub to your landscape is easy, if you follow the proper planting steps.
1. Get them in the ground as soon as possible.
Though it’s better to get new plantings in the ground as soon as they are purchased, Kluntz said if you have to let them wait a day or two, that’s OK. Just make certain the plants aren’t sitting on a sunny, hot driveway or patio – try and keep them in the shade – and water them regularly until you can get them in the ground.
2. The hole should be just deep enough and wide enough to accommodate the root ball.
“If it’s in a container, make the hole the size of the container. If it’s in burlap, make it the size of the burlap,” Kluntz said.
3. Keep the root ball intact.
If the root ball is wrapped in burlap, Kluntz said to plant the new tree or shrub as is.
“The roots are going to grow right through the burlap,” she said. “[And] it will disintegrate over time if you are watering regularly.”
If the new planting is in a container, she said just loosen the bottom and slide the tree or shrub out, keeping the roots intact as much as possible.
“If you disrupt the root system, it can cause [the planting] to fail,” she noted.
4. Plant the tree or shrub so that the top of the root ball is level with the ground.
“The worst thing is when you plant things too deep,” Kluntz said. “The new plants don’t get enough oxygen, and that causes them to fail.”
5. Water the new planting regularly.
“How often you water depends on the temperature,” she said. “If we are getting rain two times a week, you’re probably fine. But even if it’s not hot, just still quite warm, you’ll want to water every couple of days.”
She added that you should keep up the watering schedule until the ground freezes, and begin the same type of regular watering in the spring when the ground thaws.
6. Don’t fertilize the new planting.
“Let it get used to the new environment,” Kluntz said. “The following year, if you want to give it a little boost, you want to use a slow-release fertilizer.”
She said at the nursery, they routinely use fertilizers with a 10-10-10 mix on their established trees and shrubs.