Fall is an excellent time to plant shrubs and trees in our part of the country. It’s a more comfortable time to be outdoors. Fall planted trees and shrubs have a higher survival rate as compared to those planted in spring. Many nurseries have a better selection of trees during the cooler months. And, nurseries and garden centers could use your business this time of year.
Please note that the vast majority of woody trees and shrubs typically grown in our North Florida landscapes are best planted during fall through early winter. This is not true for most of the more tropical non-woody plants such as palms. More cold-sensitive plants are best planted during the warmer months of spring and summer. Information in this article applies to woody trees and shrubs.
Research has shown that different parts of a tree grow at different times of the year. For example, most shoot growth occurs during spring and begins to taper off during summer. As this happens, trunk diameter growth picks up and reaches a peak during mid to late summer. And as the trunk diameter growth wanes, root growth kicks in during fall to early winter.
If you plant now through December, with average weather, the plant has a much better chance. The roots don’t go dormant. They are better protected in the soil as compared to being more exposed to cold temperatures elevated above ground in containers. And once planted in the ground, the roots continue to grow and develop throughout winter. And because the top is dormant for the winter there is little demand on the roots. When the weather begins to warm the following spring, plants established during fall are one step ahead. They already have additional roots to support the new growth which occurs in spring.
Some work done with Live Oaks revealed that their roots can grow eight feet in every direction in the first year after planting in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 11.
With the exception of fertilizing, do almost everything exactly as you would do when planting during springtime. Wait until the following growing season to fertilize. And, you don’t need to prune unless there are structural problems or damaged branches that need to be removed.
After the plant is properly planted, be careful to water as much as it needs. Continue to water as needed through the fall and winter.
Plants can be much more forgiving if you’re a day late watering them in the fall. The real test won’t come until next summer.
Larry Williams, UF/IFAS Extension Agent, Okaloosa County, November 25, 2014