serviceberry shrub in bloom (20957 bytes)

Think Before you Plant!

Robert Cox, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension agent, horticulture

If you're thinking about planting trees or shrubs this fall, be aware that in the metro area, they need to be in the ground by October 15. At higher elevations, planting must be done sooner.

Though spring is the best time to plant, fall works well if you're willing to properly prepare soil, and to water the new transplants through dry winter periods.

Before purchasing trees or shrubs, ask these ten questions about yourself and the plants you want.

  • What is the purpose for the plant? Shade, specimen tree/shrub, privacy screen, windbreak, noise barrier, bird habitat, flower display, fruit display or fall leaf color may be criteria for selection.
  • Can this tree or shrub assist with energy conservation? Evergreen trees or shrubs can be used along the north and west sides of the property to break winter winds and to keep your home warmer. If planted on the east, west or south side of your home, evergreens will shade the home even in winter when you want the sun to enter windows to assist with heating. Deciduous trees lose their leaves, allowing heat gain in winter and cooling shade in summer. East, west and south sides of the home are better sites to plant deciduous trees/shrubs.
  • Will allergies be a problem? In general, most plants with showy flowers are insect-pollinated and do not need to produce huge amounts of pollen. Others that depend on wind to spread pollen often must produce large amounts of pollen to ensure that it is distributed. These trees are most likely to cause problems to those with allergies. Examples include pines, certain junipers, oaks, honeylocust, cottonwood.
  • Are overhead lines, underground utilities or sewer pipes present at the planting site? Call the utility locator service to mark the location of gas, electric, telephone and cable lines before you dig planting holes. Otherwise, you may be liable for any damage.
  • How fast will the plant reach full size? Often, fast-growing trees are sought to provide quick shade. Fast-growing trees, however, are weak-wooded and are damaged more easily by winds or the snowstorms that can visit Colorado while leaves remain on the trees in late September.
  • Will this plant be located far enough away from the house, driveway, front entry and neighbor's property? Take the long-term view and find out how large the plant will get. Imagine it 10, 20 or more years from now and decide if it will still be a positive part of the landscape.
  • How will this new plant fit in with buildings and other plants already on the property? Trees which become very large might dwarf a one-story ranch style home and could dominate a small lot, shading out other plants on the property. Some could require significantly more or less water than already existing landscape plants.
  • Will this tree/shrub grow well on my property? Most Front Range Colorado soils need amending to create a good rootzone environment. Heavy clays or sandy soils both benefit from the addition of organic matter. Local nurseries can be counted on to supply trees/shrubs that are dependable in Colorado. Of course, some may require more care or maintenance to perform well.
  • What kind of special care or maintenance will the tree need? Am I willing to provide this? Some plants need extra attention -- extra watering, pruning, fruit cleanup or insect/disease control. You may want to avoid those which are rather pest-prone and use alternatives. For example, some may be particularly prone to aphids or spider mites. If these are likely problems, you might select alternatives.
  • Will the tree be in a lawn area? Trees develop better root systems and can have fewer problems when grown in mulched areas rather than lawn areas. When tree roots are forced to compete with grass roots for water, nutrients and oxygen, the young tree often is at a disadvantage. Fertilizer needs and water needs for the lawn generally are not the same as for the trees growing in the lawn. If the tree must be planted in an area that will be seeded or sodded for lawn, give the tree a one-year head start before lawn is added.

For more information about selecting, planting, and caring for trees and shrubs, contact your county Colorado State University Cooperative Extension office

Photo of Serviceberry shrub: Judy Sedbrook

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Date last revised: 01/05/2010