By ADAM RUSSELL | Texas A&M AgriLife
In Texas, late fall and early winter is the perfect time to plant shade trees.
Trees in containers
Transplanting and establishing container trees is a relatively easy process if you follow Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recommendations.
“Planting shade trees is pretty simple,” said Eric Taylor, a Texas A&M Forest Service silviculturist and AgriLife Extension forestry specialist. “But there are certainly science-based tips that can get them off to a good start and improve the overall development.”
When to plant
Taylor said trees in containers or burlap bags can be planted any time if they are properly cared for. But the best time to plant deciduous trees is when they are dormant – late-fall to early spring.
He prefers planting in the fall as soon as there is sufficient soil moisture.
Shade trees planted in spring or summer can survive and do well, but they will need more attention, such as more frequent watering, he said.
Right shade tree, right site
Taylor said choosing the right tree to plant and planting location are important decisions. Texas A&M Forest Service has a tree selector website that can help landowners decide.
“We have loads of tools to help in the selection process, but once you decide, it’s important to get a good, quality tree. Make sure you scrutinize it before purchasing or planting. If you hire a professional planter, still look over the tree for potential problems.”
Those include wounds, breaks, multiple stems and unhealthy, rootbound or girdling roots, Taylor said.
Make sure the tree has a strong, single stem.
Look for trees wounded from lines tied to prevent them from blowing over, which can cause damage to the cambium, the growth layer of the tree just under the bark.
Roots should be inspected too, Taylor said. Look for numerous small, whitish roots. Roots that are brown throughout are exhibiting signs of inadequate water and other potential problems.
Make sure the roots are not girdling, or wrapping, around the base of the tree.
How to plant
Taylor suggests digging a planting hole at least twice the width of a shade tree’s pot. The hole should be deep enough for the root collar – a distinct line where the tree’s roots and stem meet – to be level with the ground.
Do not pull the tree by the stem when removing it from a container because of potential damage to the cambium layer, Taylor said. Lay the container on its side, then push on its sides as you rotate to loosen the soil before carefully removing the pot from the tree.
Make sure the roots are ready to explore new soil and not wrapped around each other or pointing upward, he said. However, you must limit root exposure to open air, he said. Root direction also is crucial.
Once the tree is in place, carefully backfill the hole with quality soil. Mix in some sand if the soil removed is heavy with clay. This will help the roots explore. Do not use mulch in the soil mix because it contains elements limiting root growth. Mulch can be used on the surface, but only a thin layer.
Taylor said watering correctly is the next critical aspect.
Taylor suggests watering with a soaker hose just beyond the root ball to begin. At each watering, run the soaker hose until moisture reaches 10-15 inches into the soil. No water should run off the soil.
“Sprinklers do very little for trees,” he said.
Watering frequency will depend on rainfall and temperatures. Newly planted trees, with their small root system, will need watering every three to four days for the first summer. Sandy soils may need more frequent watering than loamy or clay soils.
Water in the early evening.
Fertilizer is a ‘no-no’
Taylor said newly planted trees should not be fertilized. Fertilizer artificially forces the tree to elongate and grow its tips beyond its potential form.
Fertilizing can help fortify healthy trees to resist decline from a tough spring or early summer, he said, but fertilizers are not necessary for newly planted trees.
Staking a tree for support
Most smaller transplants won’t need supports to keep them stable, but larger trees or a tall tree replanted to fix root-binding may need stakes, Taylor said.
Be careful when staking trees for support. Use straps designed for the task or anything that creates a large surface area to distribute the pressure along the stem to protect the cambium. Also, make sure the support points are not wrapped too tightly around the tree.
An eyebolt can also be screwed into the stem of the tree at the proper height to provide support in multiple directions. However, the eye-bolt method is not advised in areas with known cases of oak wilt because the disease enters through open wounds.
Taylor recommends planting species native to the region.
The Texas A&M Forest Service has several web applications that provide good tree species options and recommendations for specific Texas regions and how to care for trees, including managing pests and diseases.