Fall is a great time for planting

By Kathy Conner Cornell

            Fall is a perfect time for planting woodies, which in the horticulture world are trees and shrubs, especially fruit trees.  If you can get a shovel in the ground, it is ok to plant.  However there is a correct method that will help ensure the success of your new planting.
In a few weeks this Winterberry will have bright red berries that persist during winter, until the bluebirds gobble them up. It is a great native plant for winter interest.
            Think about it, spring really asks a lot of plants.  We want them to send out new growth, flower and maybe even set fruit.  This expends a lot of energy
from the plant.  We can’t see it so we don’t think anything is happening but when you plant in fall the plant has the opportunity to grow roots and get established.  The plant will be more likely to survive its first year with this advantage.
            Digging the hole is easy but so often done incorrectly.  I heard a lecture from Don Haynie of Buffalo Springs Herb Farm.  He was saying that peat moss is a terrible thing because all of his new tree plantings died due to peat moss.  His plantings died because the landscaper improperly planted his new trees.  You never want to dig a hole deeper than the root ball of your new plant.  Planting high is not a problem, planting deep is.  The landscaper dug deep and backfilled the hole with peat moss.  This was guaranteed to fail. Peat moss has no weight to it so of course once the tree was planted, the peat moss sank and the tree was planted way too deeply.  This will cause rot of the base of the tree.
            To dig a correct planting hole dig it only as deep as the root ball and twice as wide.  If the plant has wire around it, remove it.  If it has burlap, remove it if you can or at least pull back the burlap and just let it stay outside the root ball.  A lot of burlap today is rubberized so it will never deteriorate.  It’s a good idea to take a few slices around the edge of the ball to loosen the roots.  Although it is tempting, do not amend the hole.  The plant will enjoy that nice fluffy media and then when it reaches native soil it will recoil and start to girdle, meaning it just starts wrapping back where it came from.  Backfill the hole with the native soil and you will be better off.  Take a shovel and rough down the sides of the hole.  Our clay is slick so this can also cause girdling.  Tamp down the ground to remove air pockets.  Do water slowly and deeply.  Shallow watering makes root grow near the surface and not establish a firm foundation.
            There are many native shrubs that have winter interest.  Redtwig Dogwood, Cornus sericea, has beautiful red stems that are lovely after the foliage has died back.  American beautyberry, Callicarpa americana, has beautiful purple berries that persist during the winter.  My favorite is Winterberry, Ilex verticillata, which has gorgeous red berries that the bluebirds just love.  But anything in the Ilex or holly genus must have both a male and female.  The female has the wonderful berries but will not do so without a male nearby.  However, much like real life, one male can service several females.  Reputable garden centers can guide you to the correct cultivars.    
            Take advantage of the cooler weather and plants some trees and shrubs this fall.      You will be doing your plants a big favor by allowing them to get firmly established before springtime.