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Fall Planting of Trees and Shrubs

By Helen Vander Meulen, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Master Gardener, Denver County

For a land that once was a treeless plain, the Front Range of Colorado has come a long way.

Early Denver was dependent upon runoff from the mountain snowpack, creeks and man-made canals for its basic water needs. Today's system of reservoirs has made it possible to plant and enjoy tree-lined streets and extensive landscapes knowing that water availability is much more assured.

We must, however, select trees and shrubs that are recommended for Colorado's soil and climate. It's also important to project future growth and provide the necessary vertical and side-to-side growing space. Lists of trees and shrubs adapted to this area, as well as information about growth patterns of trees, are available from area Cooperative Extension offices.

After purchasing trees or shrubs from a nursery, place them in the shade and out of the wind. The plant will hold for several days if you wet the rootball; don't submerge it in water for extended periods. If you must delay planting for several weeks, you may "heel in" the plant by digging a deep and wide trench and tipping the plant roots into it at a 45-degree angle. Cover the roots with soil and keep the trench moist.

Most deciduous trees and shrubs can be planted in the fall when they are moved with a good ball and burlap or container-grown root system. Fall planting avoids transplant shock from summer heat. Plant before mid-October, however, to allow roots time to re-establish before cold weather.

Fall planting of evergreens is more of a risk because they lose moisture from the leaves and needles they hold through the winter. You may want to delay the planting of evergreens until spring.

In planting, dig a hole wide enough to allow the roots to spread out without bending back into the hole. Test to make sure the hole has good drainage. Soil in the bottom of the hole should be firmed to avoid excessive settling before easing the plant in. The final planting depth should be 2 to 4 inches above the grade in irrigated landscapes and at grade in non-irrigated situations.

Add soil around the roots and use water instead of tamping to settle it. After planting, trim all broken or damaged branches, but don't remove healthy top growth except for minor shaping.

Watering fall-planted trees and shrubs during winter dry periods will greatly increase the odds of planting success.

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010