September can be a glorious month right across Canada as the weather is still reasonably warm with cooler nights and the inevitable shortening days. This is not only a great time to plant spring flowering bulbs but new trees and shrubs also. Many garden centres have geared their production to offer a grand supply of fall plants with the majority of the specimens are container grown. This production method has allowed for many more species of trees and shrubs to become available for later season installations. At one time in the not too distant past, trees and shrubs arrived from the nurseries to the garden centers as ‘balled and burlapped’ specimens with perhaps only the perennial plants in containers. With the advent of composite plastics and commercial container knowledge increasing the number of and styles of containers have exploded. Some nursery container that I have seen over the years would serve nicely as hot tubs or pools except for the drainage holes! This process of growing in generally black containers allows for very controlled growth, fertility and water, producing excellent quality supported with exceptionally heavy root systems. Having such massive root systems allows not only for extended transportation without damage but also when in the retail arenas if maintenance is not top notch, the containered plants have great survivability.
At home, these plants will require a bit of adjustment when they are planted in the fall. Naturally the growing season is coming to a close, the light is lower and the days are shorter but the roots will still continue to grow in spite of what is occurring topside. Once you have selected your trees and shrubs and have them safely home, give them a great drink of water, even if they seem moist already. Once the containers have drained they will be ready to install and as they are moist, they will slip out of the pot with little effort and most likely not fall apart.
Deciduous trees such as maple, linden and ash will most likely lost some or all of their leaves…it’s what they do after all. Conifers should be in fine form, dark green unless they are a variety that is otherwise of course and be bushy without damage or signs of insects. Some retail garden centres will recommend spraying the evergreens with an ‘anti-desiccant’ which is merely an organic coating, much like wax, that will coat the foliage to prevent dehydration through the process of transpiration. These plants are not necessarily growing topside during the winter months, so the coating doesn’t impede any normal growth. Once the sun grows stronger however, many evergreen (coniferous) shrubs will attempt to start growing. The soil will still be frozen therefore any moisture is locked in the form of ice between the soil particles and not available to the now active plant. A plant that is not protected from the sun with either a fabric shield or an anti-desiccant is prone to sun scald or burn. You may have noticed many cedar, yew and typical foundation landscape plants brown or rusty looking in the early spring, that is sun scald usually.
Once your shrubs and trees are planted it is essential to water each plant heavily and often. This process may seem tedious at times, but without due diligence the chances of loss are increased. The water will force any air pocket in the newly disturbed soil out as well form adhesion with the container soil and the native soil, essential for good root growth. Given that there may be only eight to twelve weeks or so for the new shrub or tree to adopt its new condition before the soil starts to freeze, the new roots that do form will not be sufficient to stabilize the entire plant. This is why I suggest mulching around any and all fall planted shrubs and trees; this addition will not only slow the soil freezing but also adds a modicum of insulation. There is no need to fertilize at this time, however it is suggested by many. My reasoning is that the container grown material will have a long term, slow release product already incorporated in the mix which will continue to release essential nutrients over time. Save your fertilizing until the spring awakens new growth.
In the even that you are planting ‘balled and burlap’ grown material, there are also a few tips to ensure success. Many of the larger trees will be in wire cages that are lined with burlap and trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey, usually with a heavy nylon cording that is tough to cut. Once the hole is prepared and well watered, the large caged ball is lifted in and the upper ring or layer of wires of the cage or basket are turned down or removed. This is wise because as the soil settles over time the top rings of the cage often protrude looking awful and causing potential safety issues for turf maintenance. Similarly to the container grown materials, heavy watering is the key to success as well as appropriate stabilization with stakes as necessary.
Fear not fall planting, simply follow a few pointers and take advantage of the often tremendous sales during September.