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Horticulture and Home Pest News
Horticulture & Home Pest News is filled with articles on current horticulture, plant care, pest management, and common household pests written by Iowa State University Extension specialists in the Departments of Entomology, Horticulture and Plant Pathology.

Planting Trees in Late Summer/Early Fall

This article was published originally on 8/24/2011

While spring is the traditional planting season in Iowa, late summer/early fall is an excellent time to plant balled and burlapped and container-grown trees. Evergreens, such as pine and spruce, should be planted by early October. Evergreens planted in late October or November may not have adequate time to become established before the onset of winter and could be subject to desiccation injury and death. Deciduous trees (those that drop their leaves in fall) can be planted up to early to mid-November. 
 
There are cultural and economic advantages to planting trees in late summer/early fall. Soil temperatures in late summer/early fall are excellent for root growth. Root growth continues until the ground freezes in winter. Plus, trees planted at this time of year generally have several weeks of favorable weather. There is also a monetary advantage of planting trees in late summer/early fall. Many garden centers and nurseries offer sales at this time of year. 
 
To successfully establish trees in the home landscape, it's important to follow proper planting techniques. 
 
Balled and Burlapped Trees 
 
When planting a balled and burlapped tree, dig a hole that is two to three times wider than the diameter of the tree's rootball. The depth of the hole should be two or three inches less than the height of the rootball. Slope the sides of the hole so the top of the hole is several inches wider than the bottom. 
 
Grasping the tree's rootball, carefully lower the tree into the hole. The top of the rootball should be approximately two or three inches above the surrounding soil line. Make sure the trunk is straight. Then begin backfilling with the original soil. Do not add compost, peat, or other organic materials to the soil. Gently firm the backfill soil in the hole with your hands. 
 
When the planting hole is one-half full, cut and remove all twine. Also, cut away and remove the burlap on the top one-third to one-half of the rootball. If the rootball is in a wire basket, remove the top one-third to one-half of the basket. Completely fill the remainder of the hole with soil. Place soil up to the top of the rootball and gradually slope it down to the surrounding soil line. Thoroughly water the tree. 
 
Poorly drained sites are difficult locations for many trees. When selecting trees for these sites, choose trees that can tolerate poorly drained conditions. In poorly drained soils, the depth of the planting hole should be approximately two-thirds of the height of the rootball. When placed in the hole, the top one-third of the rootball should be above the surrounding soil. Fill the hole with soil. Place soil to the top of the rootball and gradually slope it down to the surrounding soil line. 
 
Container Grown Trees 
 
When planting a container-grown tree, dig a hole that is two to three times wider than the diameter of the container. The depth of the hole should be two or three inches less than the height of the soil ball. Slope the sides of the hole so the top is several inches wider than the bottom. In poorly drained soils, the depth of the hole should be approximately two-thirds the height of the soil ball. 
 
Once the hole has been prepared, carefully lay the tree on its side. Tap the sides of the container to loosen the soil ball from the container and then slide the tree out of its container. All containers should be removed, even supposedly plantable containers. If the sides of the soil ball are a mass of roots, carefully shave off the outer ½ to 1 inch of the soil ball with a sharp spade or saw. Place the tree in the hole. The top of the soil ball should be approximately 2 or 3 inches above the surrounding soil. In poorly drained sites, the top one-third of the soil ball should stick above the surrounding soil. 
 
Gradually fill the hole with soil. With each new addition of soil, firm it in place with your hands. Place soil to the top of the soil ball and gradually slope it down to the surrounding soil. Once planted, water thoroughly. 
 
Late summer/early fall planted trees should be watered on a regular basis during the remainder of the year. Frequently check the moisture status of the tree's rootball. Water newly planted trees when their rootballs begin to dry out. Continue watering until the ground freezes in winter.