If there’s a spot in your yard that could use some shade, it’s time to think about planting trees.
Fall and winter are the best time to plant ornamental and fruit trees, arborists say.
“October, November, December — it’s the optimal time,” says Steve Houser, a certified arborist and a leader in the Dallas Citizen Forester Program.
Late-year planting allows roots to get established “before the summer blast furnace,” adds Eric Larner, an urban forestry specialist for Dallas County Master Gardeners.
“Our main planting season is probably November through March,” says Larner, 73, of Carrollton.
Larner helped select five trees planted in the master gardeners’ Raincatcher’s Garden at Midway Hills Christian Church. The garden, which includes a butterfly garden, flowers and vegetables, is designed to show the public what works.
The gardeners planted three oaks — a chinquapin (quercus muehlenbergii), Mexican white oak (quercus polymorpha) and Lacey (quercus glaucoides) — a cedar elm (ulmus crassifolia) and ginkgo (ginkgo biloba).
Notice that a live oak and red oak, two of the most popular trees in Texas, were not included.
“We need to get away from live oak and red oak,” Houser says. They are particularly susceptible to oak wilt, a disease that kills a tree, then spreads through the roots to kill other oaks nearby. Cedar elms are reliable, adaptable shade trees that are drought tolerant and turn golden yellow in the fall.
Larner says a ginkgo is part of the mix to add something a little unusual.
“The ginkgo is becoming more popular because it is drought tolerant and more likely to have fall color,” Larner says.
A ginkgo warning: Be sure it’s a male tree. Females produce stinky fruit, Larner says. “I don’t think retailers are selling females, but you need to check.”
When it comes to shade trees, probably the bigger the better. Trees with a dirt root ball wrapped in burlap are the best, but they are also more expensive, Larner says.
A container tree from a local big-box store can be fine, if it’s carefully selected and planted. If possible, ease a tree out of the container at the store to see if the roots are somewhat vertical or look more like a woven basket.
If the roots are wrapped around the root ball, they will need to be pulled out and even cut to keep them from strangling the tree after it’s planted.
The same guidelines apply to fruit trees, says Larry Stein, a specialist with Texas AgriLife Extension Service. Except he likes to plant even later.
“If I had my choice, I’d plant in the winter,” he says. January and February are his favorite time. Bare-root trees, those whose roots are usually wrapped with little or no soil, are more likely to be available. “They are cheaper,” Stein says, and you can see whether the roots are healthy. Often they are found at feed or farm supply stores.
Container-grown trees are more readily available, he says, and will do well if planted carefully. Ideally, fruit trees should be 3 to 4 feet tall. If they are taller, it’s best to trim the central trunk at the top. Side limbs should also be pruned, Stein says. Peaches, pears, plums and other fruits do well in Texas. Apples can grow but are subject to cotton root rot, Stein says.
Homeowners interested in the more unusual can try persimmons. The key, the arborists say, is to pick a tree and plant. The shade, and maybe fruit, will be well worth it.
Karel Holloway is a Terrell freelance writer.
Why plant a tree?
Trees provide shade.
They help clean air.
They can lower utility bills.
Roots hold soil in place.
Trees add value to property.
Choose the right tree
Decide what kind of tree you want. Will it primarily provide shade? Screening from an unwanted view? Fall color? Edible fruit?
Pick the right spot. Is there room for the size tree wanted? Remember to think about how far the tree will reach when it’s fully grown.
Will it interfere with driveways, walkways or the home’s foundation?
Will the selected tree interfere with power lines when it is full size?
Think about the amount of shade it will provide. Will it shade the home’s windows? When it’s full size, will it provide too much shade for grass or flowers to grow?
Does it have undesirable characteristics? Is there unwanted fruit? An unpleasant smell?
How to plant a tree
Select the proper site with appropriate soil type. Eric Larner, a Dallas urban tree specialist, says he ran into solid rock just a few inches down when helping plant at the master gardeners’ demonstration garden. The planters dug through the rock and planted. The tree didn’t do well, Larner says.
Measure the root ball and dig a hole 2 to 3 times the ball’s diameter.
The hole should not be too deep. The top of the root ball should be level with the ground.
If the hole is too deep, backfill with dirt taken from the hole. Steve Houser, a certified arborist, says it’s better to plant a tree too high than too far into the ground.
Remove the tree from the container. Make sure girdling roots are pulled or trimmed.
Place the tree in the hole and fill in with removed dirt. Fertilizer is not needed. Some compost can be mixed with the fill dirt, if desired. Larner says to be sure to stomp the dirt down so the tree won’t settle too much later.
Use a slow-running hose to thoroughly water the tree.
Put mulch around the newly planted tree, pulling it away from the trunk.
Protect the trunk with a purchased protector or slit the side of a 2-liter plastic bottle and place it around the trunk.
Water as necessary, depending on how dry the soil is. Houser says just poke your finger in the ground to see whether it’s damp a couple of inches down. Water if it’s dry.
SOURCE: Dallas Morning News research
More information about our tree selection here.
Berm and Tree Planting Video.
How to Plant a Bare Root Tree Video.