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GardenSMART :: Is it Too Late to Plant a New Tree

Is it Too Late to Plant a New Tree

By The Davey Tree Expert Company
Photograph courtesy of The Davey Tree Expert Company

Now that fall is here, you may be itching to add a new tree to your landscape. Who wouldn't want more of that gorgeous seasonal fall color? But with cold winter weather right around the corner, is it safe to plant now?

Brian Leatherman of the Washington, D.C., Davey office shares everything you need to know about planting trees this time of year.

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Is November too late to plant trees?

"Fall is the ideal time of year to plant most new trees. Then, there's less chance of drought or sun scorch harming fragile, new trees," Leatherman says. Plus, he adds that the cooler temperatures help encourage new root growth–and this effect is compounded. Because trees focus on growing new roots in the fall, planting new trees now helps them develop stronger roots (and more of them).

While autumn technically isn't over until December 21, you probably shouldn't plant that late into the season. Planting a tree when the ground is too cool sets your tree up for trouble. It'll likely suffer from reduced root growth and eventual tree decline.

A good rule of thumb is that if the trees in your area still have leaves, you can plant new trees.

To be 100 percent sure, Leatherman suggests looking at the soil. Using a soil thermometer, which can be found at any home and garden store, measure soil temperature early in the morning for a few consecutive days. If your soil is consistently 50 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, you're good to plant.

Can I plant any type of tree if the soil is 50 degrees or higher in autumn?

"The 50-degree mark works best for deciduous trees. Those are the ones that shed leaves before for winter," Leatherman explains. "Because of this, those trees focus only on growing and providing water to their roots in winter. So, they don't need as much energy."

On the other hand, evergreen trees–such as pine and spruce–hold onto their needles year-round. They need all the nutrients they can get before the ground freezes. Leatherman advises against planting evergreen trees if the soil temperature is lower than 60 degrees. Your tree wouldn't have enough time to save the energy needed to survive the winter.

How can I make sure my new tree survives winter and stays healthy?

To prepare a new tree for winter, simply water your new tree weekly, even if its leaves have fallen, until the ground freezes.

"Watering new trees is one of the best ways to help them!" Leatherman says. "Then, once the leaves come back in the spring, continue to water that tree weekly. Before you get out the hose, take rainfall into account."

Next, add mulch to help new trees retain moisture, control soil temperature and ward off weeds. Avoid piling on too much mulch, though. Leatherman calls that "volcano mulching." He recommends applying only 2 inches to 4 inches of organic mulch around the tree's drip zone, which is as far as the tree's leaves grow out. Use a rake to pull mulch 1 inch to 2 inches from the tree trunk to provide proper air circulation.

If you want help selecting, planting or caring for your trees this fall, give Leatherman a call at 301-869-6884 or connect online at

With nearly 9,500 employees throughout North America, The Davey Tree Expert Company provides solutions for residential, utility, commercial and government clients. Rooted in research, the company's vision is to achieve balance among people, progress and the environment. Tree experts since 1880, Davey provides diversified tree services, grounds maintenance, and environmental services. Celebrating 40 years of employee ownership, Davey is one of the largest employee-owned companies in the U.S. and is headquartered in Kent, Ohio. Want to join us? Discover your Davey career, and apply today.


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