Well-informed gardeners buy dormant trees and shrubs even though they aren’t showy. Fall-planting gives plants a head start compared to planting in spring. Fall weather tends to be cool and moist, an ideal climate for newly planted trees. Tree planting is a pleasure when the weather is cool and breezy, and regular rainfall can help with watering duties. Trees installed in early fall are very vigorous by spring, even though they may look a bit frowsy right now due to summer stress.
In late summer and early fall trees enter a “dormant” period. We like to say that they’re going to sleep. Trees tolerate transplanting best during this period. Even container-grown trees tend to adjust better in the landscape after summer stress is over. When a tree’s leaves are fading it can handle stress better and get by with less water. This is why the best time of the year to transplant trees is October and November. Their demand for water and nutrients drops dramatically but the root system continues to build as long as the soil is still warm.
People often ask me how to transplant trees and shrubs without killing them. Roots are often left behind during transplanting, and this can shock the tree during growth or bloom but doesn’t matter as much when it’s dormant. Dormant trees can be dug and moved with very little stress when the tree has no leaves and the sap isn’t flowing. If roots are damaged a tree can replace them during the fall because it has a lot of stored energy. It has many months to adjust before it must produce new leaves, blooms and fruit.
Dormant season for most plants in the Ohio valley means October through March. When spring comes and the tree has less roots to sustain it, it will automatically compensate by putting our fewer and smaller leaves and blooms. The stored energy of the plant will be focused on rebuilding the root system back to what it was. If you do your transplant properly, the tree will eventually recover and start to grow again. See this link for details on transplanting: https://goodseedfarm.com/ArticleTree-Transplanting-Tips-2018.htm
Nurseries make their living by digging up and selling their trees, and there’s a time-tested method for doing this. The first thing to remember is that if you plan your transplant for the dormant season, you can move less dirt with the plant without harming it. Late spring and early summer are the worst times to transplant. Nurseries do most of their digging in late winter and early spring, but as soon as buds start to open they stop digging.
In springtime trees need lots of energy to create leaves and bloom. They push stored energy up from the root system, building new foliage and adding thickness to roots and stems. The leaves gather energy from the sun, storing it in the fruit, trunk and roots. By early fall they have finished the growing cycle and replenished their stored energy. This is when trees are at peak strength. They harden off new growth and drop their leaves, protecting themselves from the moisture loss caused by winter winds.
Steve Boehme is a southwest Ohio landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape makeovers. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.