Best to Plant Trees and Shrubs in Fall

Roots rarely rest. While leaves turn colors in the fall and litter the lawn in the winter, roots keep on growing. But roots can use a little help.

The best thing to do for roots is to plant them in a big hole in the fall.

Tree studies have shown that when planted in loose, well-drained soil, the roots of certain trees spread as much as 14 feet beyond the original root ball within three years.

roots exposed

Roots on live oak can grow 8 feet in every direction in the first year after planting.

Improving the structure of the soil by loosening the soil over a large area provides a good environment for roots to grow.

Studies also have shown the futility of adding peat moss, other organic matter, and fertilizer to the planting hole. Fifty percent of the roots were outside of the planting hole within twelve months of planting anyway and no longer reaping any “benefits” that might have been obtained by amending the planting hole. The lesson learned is to not encourage roots of trees and shrubs to stay in the planting hole by adding fertilizer and soil amendments. Doing so can delay root growth outside of the “goodies” placed in the planting hole. It is somewhat like taking the tree or shrub out of a container and placing it back in a “container” in the ground. Genetically, tree and shrub roots “want to” grow outward into surrounding soil quickly. But creating a little “container” with peat moss and fertilizer can be counterproductive, causing the roots to more slowly grow outward into the surrounding soil.

So, don’t encourage roots of newly planted trees and shrubs to stay in the planting hole by adding fertilizer and soil amendments. But do plant in the fall.

The key is that roots don’t go dormant. They continue to grow and develop throughout the cooler fall and winter months. And because the top grow slows down during fall and winter, there is less demand on the roots.

Fall-planted ornamentals normally have a supply of carbohydrates stored in their roots from the past growing season. So, with little demand from the tops, the roots are able to grow and become well established before the next spring. When spring does come, fall planted trees and shrubs are ready to grow and are better established as compared to spring planted trees and shrubs.

Take advantage of cooler fall temperatures, save money on soil amendments, and give your trees and shrubs a head start. It’s a win, win, win!

Chaste Tree

Chaste Tree

Photos by Sheila Dunning

The showy chaste tree makes an attractive specimen as the centerpiece of your landscape bed or in a large container on the deck.  Much more of them are being seen since the Florida Department of Transportation has recognized the tree as a desirable median planting.  Easy-to-grow, drought resistant, and attractive to butterflies and bees, Vitex agnus-castus is a multi-stemmed small tree with fragrant, upwardly-pointing lavender blooms and gray-green foliage.  The chaste tree’s palmately divided leaves resemble those of the marijuana (Cannabis sativa) plant; its flowers can be mistaken for butterfly bush (Buddleia sp.); and the dry, darkened drupes can be used for seasoning, similar to black pepper, making it a conversation piece for those unfamiliar with the tree.

Vitex , with its sage-scented leaves that were once believed to have a sedative effect, has the common name “Chastetree” since Athenian women used the leaves in their beds to keep themselves chaste during the feasts of Ceres, a Roman festival held on April 12.  In modern times, the tree is more often planted where beekeepers visit in order to promote excellent honey production or simply included in the landscape for the enjoyment of its showy, summer display of violet panicles.

Chaste tree is native to woodlands and dry areas of southern Europe and western Asia.  It will thrive in almost any soil that has good drainage, prefers full sun or light shade, and can even tolerate moderate salt air.  Vitex is a sprawling plant that grows 10-20 feet high and wide, that looks best unpruned.  If pruning is desired to control the size, it should be done in the winter, since it is a deciduous tree and the blooms form on new wood.  The chaste tree can take care of itself, but can be pushed to faster growth with light applications of fertilizer in spring and early summer and by mulching around the plant.  There are no pests of major concern associated with this species, but, root rot can cause decline in soils that are kept too moist.

Satsuki Azaleas: Elegant small evergreens with oversized flowers

Satsuki Azaleas: Elegant small evergreens with oversized flowers

Article written by Dr. Gary Knox, North Florida Research & Extension Center – Quincy, FL.

‘Gumpo Pink’ flowers are 3 inches in diameter and are pink with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches on petals.

Background

In the times before re-blooming azaleas like Encore®, Bloom-A-Thon® and others, Satsuki azaleas were valued for late flowering that extended the azalea “bloom season”. Even with modern re-blooming azaleas, Satsuki azaleas still are appreciated as refined evergreen shrubs for the sophisticated garden or discerning plant collector.

“Satsuki” means “Fifth Month” in Japanese, corresponding to their flowering time in much of Japan. These azaleas were developed hundreds of years ago from their native Rhododendron indicum and R. eriocarpum. The Japanese selected cultivars more for their form and foliage than for flowering. These beloved plants were used in gardens as sheared boxwood-like hedges or pruned into rounded mounds that might resemble rocks or boulders in classical Japanese gardens. Their size and form also made them well adapted for training as bonsai. Most of the Satsuki azaleas in America were introduced in the 1930s by USDA.

Description

Satsuki azaleas are small evergreen shrubs that flower in April and May in north Florida, long after most older type azaleas have finished. Satsuki azaleas also are known for producing large, mostly single flowers up to 5 inches in diameter in colors of white, pink, red, reddish orange and purple. Often the flowers will include stripes, edging, blotches, spots or flecks of contrasting colors (Sometimes all on the same plant!) with more than 20 different color patterns recorded.

Satsuki azaleas have an elegant subtle charm, quite unlike the flashy, over-the-top, heavy blooming all-at-once Southern Indica azaleas like ‘Formosa’ and ‘George L. Taber’. Typically, Satsuki azaleas display a few large blooms at a time, allowing one to better appreciate their size and color patterns as contrasted against their fine-textured, dark green leaves. To make up for a less boisterous display, Satsuki azaleas flower over a longer timeframe, averaging about 8 weeks, with some flowering an amazing 14 weeks. In another contrast, most Satsuki azaleas grow smaller in size, in my experience reaching about 3 feet tall and wide in a five-year timeframe. The rounded to lance-shaped leaves of Satsuki azaleas also are demure, ranging in length from just ½ inch to no more than 2 inches.

Culture

Satsuki azaleas enjoy the same conditions as most other azaleas: light shade and moist, rich, well-drained soil.  Mulch regularly to maintain organic matter and help hold moisture. Fertilize lightly and keep the roots evenly moist. Minimal to no pruning is required. Satsuki azaleas also are well adapted to container culture. Their small size and fine textured leaves make these a favorite for bonsai enthusiasts since their small leaves, branching habit and mounded form naturally make them look like miniature mature “trees”.

Sources and Cultivars

Look for Satsuki azaleas in spring at garden centers or year-round at online nurseries. There are hundreds of cultivars but some popular types to look for include:

Gumpo Pink – 3-in. diameter light pink flowers with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches

Gumpo White – 3-in. diameter white flowers with occasional pink flakes and light green blotches

Gyokushin – 3-in. diameter flowers are predominantly white but with light to dark pink dots and blotches

Higasa – flowers are 4 to 5 inches in diameter and are purplish pink with purple blotches

Shugetsu – also called ‘Autumn Moon’, 3-in. diameter flowers are white with a broad, bright purplish-red border

Tama No Hada – flowers are 4 to 5 inches in diameter and are white to pink with deep pink stripes; usually flowers in fall as well as spring

Wakaebisu – 2.5-in. diameter flowers are “double” (hose-in-hose) and are salmon pink with deep pink dots and blotches; this also flowers in fall as well as spring

References:

Chappell, M. G.M. Weaver, B. Jernigan, and M. McCorkle. 2018. Container trial of 150 azalea (Rhododendron spp.) cultivars to assess insect tolerance and bloom characteristics in a production environment. HortScience 53(9-S): S465.

‘Gumpo Pink’ flowers are 3 inches in diameter and are pink with purplish pink dots and occasional white blotches on petals.

‘Gyokushin’ flowers are white with occasional pink flecks and light green blotches.

‘Shugetsu’ has 3-inch flowers that have bright purplish-red border on edges of petals.

Galle, Fred C. Azaleas. 1985. Timber Press, Portland, Oregon. 486 pp.

 

It’s Time to Plant and Prune!

It’s Time to Plant and Prune!

The last several weeks have brought consistently cool weather to the Panhandle, with a few downright cold nights dipping well below freezing.  Though winter isn’t officially here, that won’t happen until December 21st, grass mowing season is definitely over and, if you’re like me and didn’t cover your raised bed garden on those nippy nights, vegetable growing has also slowed significantly.  So, what are us horticulturally minded folks with cold-weather cabin fever to do?  It’s time to take advantage of sweat-free temperatures, break out the shovels and pruners, and get to work in the landscape!

Master Gardeners demonstrate correct tree planting techniques.

The months of December through February are ideal times for planting new trees and shrubs.  The reasons for this are simple.  Days are short, rain tends to be plentiful, temperatures are cool, and plants are mostly dormant.  While newly installed plants need water to become established regardless of when they are planted, demand for supplemental irrigation is significantly less in winter (one of our rainiest seasons) and the chances of a new planting dying from thirst is slim relative to warmer months.  Also, planting in winter gives trees and shrubs several months of above ground dormancy to focus their resources below ground, recover from the shock of transitioning from a nursery container into your native soil, and produce valuable roots that will help it get through its first summer.  Think about it.  Would it be easier for you to start and finish a major outdoor project in July with one bottle of water to drink or in December with an ice chest full?  Plants prefer the same!

Not only is winter perfect for planting, tis the season for pruning many species too, deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in the fall) in particular!  The first reason to prune these species in the winter is to give the plants several months to begin healing before growth resumes in spring and insect and disease pressure ramps up again.  Many serious pests and diseases of trees are most active during warm, wet weather and all of them have easier access to attack trees through open wounds.  Prune in winter to help avoid unwanted pest and disease infestations.  Also, dormancy has conveniently knocked the leaves off deciduous species’ branches, allowing us a clear view of the tree’s crown and giving us the ability to make clear, clean, strategic pruning cuts.  Proper pruning can help maintain a strong central leader that produces a stately, straight tree and remove dead and diseased branches that could cause problems in the future.

While planting in the winter is always ideal and we just outlined several reasons pruning now can be good, not all plants should be pruned when dormant.  For instance, old-fashioned hydrangeas and azaleas that produce blooms from the previous season’s growth.  Pruning these in the winter removes all the flower buds that would have bloomed the next summer and what’s the point of an azalea or hydrangea that doesn’t bloom?  Also, many small trees and shrubs, like Crape Myrtle and Vitex, may never need pruning if you site them where they will have room to mature without encroaching on other plants or structures.

If you have any questions about planting trees and shrubs, what, when, and how to prune, or any other horticultural topic, please contact your local UF/IFAS Extension Office!  Enjoy the weather and happy gardening!

Video: Container Plants Quick Planting Tip

Video: Container Plants Quick Planting Tip

If you plan to purchase a container tree or shrub this cool season, it is important to follow a few important steps during installation. UF IFAS Extension Escambia County shows you how to find the root flare and remove excess soil above the root flare. These are a couple of steps that will help ensure your plant has a good chance at thriving in the landscape. #plantingdepth #treeinstallation

Proper Tree Planting

Proper Tree Planting

A newly planted tree with water retention berm.

A planted tree with water retention berm. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Often, Extension agents are tasked with evaluation of unhealthy plants in the landscape.  They diagnose all sorts of plant problems including those caused by disease infection, insect infiltration, or improper culture.

When evaluating trees, one problem that often comes to the surface is improper tree installation.  Although poorly installed trees may survive for 10 or 15 years after planting, they rarely thrive and often experience a slow death.

Fall/winter is an excellent time to plant a tree in Florida.  Here are 11 easy steps to follow for proper tree installation:

  1. Look around and up for wire, light poles, and buildings that may interfere with growth;
  2. Dig a shallow planting hole as wide as possible;
  3. Find the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk;
  4. Slide the tree carefully into the planting hole;
  5. Position the point where the top-most root emerges from the trunk slightly above the landscape soil surface;
  6. Straighten the tree in the hole;
  7. Remove synthetic materials from around trunk and root ball;
  8. Slice a shovel down in to the back fill;
  9. Cover the exposed sides of the root ball with mulch and create water retention berm;
  10. Stake the tree if necessary;
  11. Come back to remove hardware.
A hole being dug for a tree to be planted.

Digging a properly sized hole for planting a tree. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Removing synthetic material from the root ball.

Removing synthetic material from the root ball. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida/IFAS Extension – Santa Rosa County

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height.

Straightening a tree and adjusting planting height. Photo Credit: Matt Lollar, University of Florida – Santa Rosa County

For more detailed information on planting trees and shrubs visit this UF/IFAS Website – “Steps to Planting a Tree”.

For more information Nuttall Oaks visit this University of Arkansas Website.