You may think that springtime is the best time to plant trees, but it’s actually fall. Of course you can plant trees any time of year but fall planting will give the tree more time to establish while temperatures are cooler. Then they’ll really take off after the ground thaws. Fall is also a great time to find bargains as garden centers sell off their inventory before winter sets in.
There are a few things to look for when choosing a tree. Especially with bargain trees, appearance doesn’t always matter. The root ball and trunk are more important features. The trunk should be straight and the leading branches at the top of the trunk should not rub against each other. There should be a good root flare at the base of the tree that spreads out. If you don’t see a flare, it was planted too deep. Look for healthy roots; black or dark brown roots are already dead. The roots should not be too tight either. Make sure there is no obvious insect damage, like black spots on the foliage.
Follow the directions for planting the tree. Make sure to dig the hole deep enough and that the soil around is well tilled for optimum root spread. In stages, fill in the hole with good topsoil, watering in as you go. This will prevent any air pockets. You can mulch but always leave six inches clear around the trunk. Mulching too close encourages insects. Water weekly until the ground freezes. Give the tree some support if needed.
KATHLEEN WEAVER-ZECH & DEAN’S TEAM CHICAGO