Volume 23, Number 3
Fall is the Perfect Time to Plant a Yard Tree
By Hank Stelzer | MU School of Natural Resources Extension
The fall season is an excellent time to plant new trees
in your yard. Fall planting allows for root
development to occur prior to winter's arrival. These
fall roots help the tree become established before the
hot, dry conditions of next year's summer arrive.
The ideal time to plant in the fall is between mid-
September and the end of October. Planting later into
November decreases the amount of root growth
before the soil cools.
A good rule of thumb is that if the trees in your area
still have leaves, you can plant new trees. Better yet,
look to the soil! Using a soil thermometer, measure
soil temperature early in the morning for a few,
consecutive days. If your soil is consistently 50℉ or
higher, you are good to plant.
Planting in fall varies little from spring procedures.
Most important is to select the right plant for the right
location. This will require research before heading to
the nursery to pick out the plant. Know the height,
spread and shape of the tree that is needed in the
landscape. Always plan for the mature size of the
plant. This prevents plants from overtaking the
allotted space and reduces maintenance such as
pruning. Avoid fall planting of trees in locations that
are prone to excessive cold winter winds or cannot be
The planting hole for your tree is important. It is often
said, dig a hundred dollar hole for a twenty-five dollar
plant. This is truer now than ever backed by
current research. It is better to dig the hole wider than
deeper. Digging deeper than the root ball depth
causes the plant to settle. This settling results in an
unhappy root system that is often prone to decline in
our heavy clay soils.
The width of the planting hole should be two to five
times the diameter of the root ball (diagram, right).
This loose soil around the root ball allows for quick
root growth into the soil from the root ball. When
backfilling, do not stomp the soil, as this causes
compaction and slows root growth. Either lightly firm
the soil or allow water to naturally settle the soil.
Once the tree is planted, keep it properly watered.
Dry soil conditions during winter are one of the main
drawbacks to fall planting. We often forget to water
during the cold of winter. The soil will absorb water
unless frozen. When watering, deeply soak the soil
and allow it to dry before reapplying. Check the
moisture level and water as needed throughout
the entire winter.
Normally, young trees are not fertilized at the time
of planting. Wait one growing season before
applying the nutrients. The only exception would be
a root starter type fertilizer. Establishing roots
is more important in the early stages of growth
than top growth.
A word (or two) needs to be said about planting
smaller, bare-root forest tree seedlings. These plants
start their life out as a seed in the spring and need to
be conditioned before being planted in the forest or
an old field. This conditioning requires these
seedlings to remain in their nursery beds through
the fall and early winter months before they
are ready to face the world. We will talk more
about planting forest tree seedlings in the winter
issue of Green Horizons.
An excellent reference is MU Guide G6850, How to
Plant a Tree. Take advantage of the fall season
and add new trees to the landscape, it is a great
time. But remember, care is just as important for
success as in the spring.
For more information about tree planting, visit the
University of Missouri's Extension guide at