CHARLOTTE – From a tree’s perspective, fall is the ideal planting time—even better than spring. Perhaps most important, fall planting allows a tree plenty of time to establish its root system before winter. Roots begin growing as soon as they touch moist earth and continue to do so as long as the soil temperature stays about 40°F. When spring does arrive, the fall-planted tree is in place, its roots already growing in the soil.
When buying trees, you have a few different options in terms of what kind of nursery-grown tree you get:
Bare-root trees are grown in the field and then dug while they are leafless in either fall or spring. Fall-dug trees may be sold immediately or stored with their roots packed in moist material and are easily shipped. Because you can see the roots, you can easily assess their condition. Bare-root trees also tend to be the cheapest option.
Container-grown trees spend the first part of their lives in pots. The potting mix is lighter than field soil, so such plants can be shipped economically. Ideally, the plant should spend just enough time in the container to allow its roots to fill it. If possible, slide a container-grown tree out of its pot to make sure the roots are not too thick and tangled. Restrain yourself from buying the largest tree possible; it should be no taller than three to four times the height of its container.
Balled-and-burlapped trees often have been dug from clay soil. Such a tree is lifted with a ball of soil and wrapped with burlap. Clay soil holds together better than lighter soils, but it is also heavy, so the weight and the delicacy of the root ball make mail-order shipping of these trees almost cost-prohibitive. In most cases they must be bought locally possibly making tree selection more limited. Due to the weight and size, it can be hard to plant these trees yourself without the use of machinery.
Next Week – Part 2 Planting the Tree