Fall Good Time to Replace Trees and Shrubs - Indiana Yard and Garden - Purdue Consumer Horticulture

Fall Good Time to Replace Trees and Shrubs

Many Indiana gardeners lost landscape plants this year; particularly plants that were already in trouble and perhaps were dealt a fatal blow by summer’s extreme heat and drought. Cooler temperatures and more adequate rainfall can make fall an ideal time to replace or add to your woody plant collection. But keep the following notes in mind.

Plants that are most successful for fall planting include most shrubs, crabapple, hackberry, hawthorn, honeylocust, linden, most maples, sycamore, pine and spruce. Some plant species do not adapt well to fall planting because they are slow to establish new roots and/or unusually susceptible to winter damage. Magnolia, dogwood, tuliptree, sweet gum, red maple, birch, hawthorn, poplars, cherries, plum, oak, hemlock, ginkgo and broad-leaved evergreens are among the plants that are best saved for spring planting. However, you may justify the risk by finding exceptional bargains in the fall. Many garden centers are motivated to sell stock because of the expense of keeping the plants over winter.

Select balled-and-burlapped or container-grown plants rather than bare-rooted stock. Bare-root plants should only be planted in late winter or early spring while the plants are still dormant.

Avoid planting large trees in the fall. They can be risky to transplant in any season, but are particularly so when foliage is present. Leave the large trees until spring, and get a professional to do the moving. They have the proper equipment and expertise to help ensure a safe move.

Plant trees and shrubs early enough in the fall for the plant to develop a good root system. Soil temperatures should be well above 55 F at a depth of six inches at planting time. This condition usually exists until early to late October, depending on your location. Of course, weather conditions vary from year to year and with microclimates around the home landscape.

Water as needed to supplement rainfall to supply about one inch of water per week. Continue weekly watering until the ground is frozen, even after deciduous plants have lost their leaves. Wrap the trunks of thin-barked, young trees in late November to prevent frost cracks, sunscald and animal damage, but be sure to remove the wrap in March.

Ground covers and shallow-rooted shrubs may be heaved out of the ground by alternate freezing and thawing of the soil that often occurs in winter. A 2-4 inch layer of mulch can help prevent wide soil temperature fluctuations. Apply materials such as compost, shredded bark or straw in late November or early December, after the plants are fully dormant and the soil is cold.

For more information on proper tree planting and care, download Purdue Extension bulletin HO-100, “Planting Landscape Trees and Shrubs” (PDF: 707 KB).


There is still plenty of summer yet to get through so us gardeners will just have to wait and see what Nature has in store for us!


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