Across Ohio, nature is showing signs that a season of change is upon us: from wildlife migration and falling leaves to cooler temperatures and shorter days. And while you might consider autumn a time for putting summer things away, its also an excellent opportunity for putting things into the ground, such as trees and shrubs.
Why now? After they have spent the season beautifying and greening up our neighborhoods, trees enter a dormancy period, which lasts from leaf-drop to spring bud-break. For newly planted trees, this dormancy stage is ideal, because it gives them a chance to become more established before warm weather and spring rains trigger renewed top growth.
Warm soil combined with autumns cooler air temperatures create less stress on the new tree, said Bill Schultz, a forester with the State of Ohio. But the greatest reward for planting in the fall occurs in the spring. As soon as temperatures warm up and ground thaw occurs, autumn planted trees are able to reap the benefits of all that Mother Nature has to give.
Like choosing a new piece of furniture, careful consideration should be given before you purchase a tree for planting. You need to decide what purpose this tree will serve in your landscape. For instance, is this tree for beautification, above all other factors? Do you primarily want it to screen sights and sounds? How about providing shade or serving as wildlife habitat? Maybe you want all of the above.
Once the role of your new addition is defined, its time to dig into research before you dig into dirt. Youll want to find out about a trees requirements for light, soil and water. Planting a light-loving lilac in full shade will diminish its trademark clusters of aromatic blooms. As you continue evaluating various species, pay attention to how fast individual trees grow and their size at maturity. Remember, little acorns grow into mighty oaks. If the spot youre filling is closer than 15 feet of the house, then a red maple which grows 65 to 70-feet tall is not a good choice. Instead, consider an ornamental such as the flowering dogwood, which ranges 15 to 20 feet in height.
As a rule of thumb, trees can be planted until ground freeze, which usually occurs in early January. However, because of Ohios unpredictable weather, Schultz recommends getting your tree in the ground before the end of October.
When youre ready to choose a tree, think native. Not only do native varieties need less attention than their non-native counterparts, but they also benefit Ohio wildlife by providing shelter from the elements and producing food such as berries and nuts. Tree species that are popular as food sources include serviceberry, hawthorn, all fruiting viburnums, sassafras, and oak for their acorns. Additionally, American holly is a winter food source, as are birch trees for their buds, and tulip trees and box elders for their seed, which hang on into winter. Many conifers and other evergreens are not only good sources of food, but also provide excellent cold-weather cover for many of Ohios animals.
Finally, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Purchase trees and shrubs from a reputable nursery
- While most trees can be planted in the fall there are exceptions, so be sure to note that in your research
- Select a healthy tree with good form, avoiding ones showing signs of damage or disease
- Plant ball-and-burlapped or container grown trees. Fall is not the time for bare-root plants
- Pay close attention to planting instructions. Specifically, dont plant your tree too deeply
- Water as directed until the ground freezes.
Treat yourself this fall and plant a tree. Then next spring watch this gift from nature unwrap from the first leaf bud to the last splash of autumn color.