Fall brings milder temperatures, frequent rainfall, and reduced daylight hours. These conditions are good for encouraging new trees to establish strong root systems.

The Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) reminds homeowners and others that fall is a great time to plant trees. Fall brings milder temperatures, frequent rainfall, and reduced daylight hours. These conditions are good for encouraging new trees to establish strong root systems.

A successful tree planting, however, does not just depend on the weather. Here are a few things from MDC foresters to keep in mind before putting a tree in the ground:

Location – Before digging any holes, examine the surroundings around where a tree will be planted. Are there powerlines overhead? Is there enough space for a tree? How much sunlight does the site receive? Remember to call the Missouri One Call System at 811 or 1-800-344-7483 at least two working days before digging to make sure of the locations of any underground utilities.

Species Selection – Select tree species appropriate for the site. Before purchasing any trees, consider the goals for the space and important aspects, such as tree form, mature tree size, fruit production, and wildlife benefits. Plant native species to help reduce issues with pests, soils, and climate. Check out MDC’s “Right Tree in the Right Place” guide for more tips at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZAh.

Planting Depth – Start a new tree off right by planting it properly. Trees that are planted too deep or too shallow will struggle and may even die. Plant trees so that the tops of the major roots are flush with or slightly above the natural level of the soil. The root flare should be visible once the tree is in the ground. See the MDC “How to Plant a Tree” guide for more information on proper planting technique at short.mdc.mo.gov/ZA7.

Water – Consistent watering is one of the most important steps in helping new trees establish healthy roots. A good rule of thumb is to ensure that trees receive 10 gallons of water per inch diameter of the trunk 2-3 times per month, either through rainfall or by watering the tree. This is especially important during dry, hot periods in late summer and early fall. Don’t forget to water mature trees, too.

Mulch – Correctly mulching around trees can help retain soil moisture, control weeds, and provide a barrier from lawnmowers. Spread shredded bark or wood-chip mulch no more than three inches deep in a donut shape around the tree, leaving a gap near the trunk. Burying the root flare and trunk of the tree under mulch is harmful, can suffocate roots, and cause rot. Learn more about mulching from MDC at short.mdc.mo.gov/Z5j.

Fertilizer – Most of the time, fertilizing trees is unnecessary. Consider having the soil tested for nutrients and pH before adding fertilizer or soil amendments. Soil tests are affordable and easy to do. The University of Missouri Soil and Plant Testing Lab provides soil testing services. Visit soilplantlab.missouri.edu/soil/soilsamples.aspx for more information.

Order tree and shrub seedlings for spring from MDC

Can’t plant trees this fall? No worries! Make plans now to plant in the early spring. MDC’s George O. White State Forest Nursery near Licking offers a variety of low-cost native tree and shrub seedlings for reforestation, windbreaks, erosion control, wildlife food and cover, and other purposes. The nursery provides mainly one-year-old, bare-root seedlings with sizes varying by species.

Learn more and place orders through MDC’s “2019-2020 Seedling Order Form.” Find it in the September issue of the Missouri Conservationist, at MDC regional offices and nature centers, online at mdc.mo.gov/seedlings, or by contacting the State Forest Nursery at 573-674-3229 or StateForestNursery@mdc.mo.gov.

Place orders now through April 15, 2020. Orders will be shipped or can be picked up at the nursery near Licking from February through May.