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Now Is The Ideal Time For Planting Trees & Shrubs

by Dr. William M. Johnson, Galveston County Extension Agent - Horticulture
December 23, 2004

With citrus, even if you can’t pronounce it, you can probably grow it.

Gardening: Satsuma Picture

Square Foot Gardening
. For most of us, intensive gardening is the best way to use our limited garden space. Square foot gardening is really just another name for intensive gardening. Square foot gardening also allows us to create aesthetically pleasing and even artful gardens. Master Gardener John Jons will conduct a seminar on square foot gardening on Saturday, January 8. Photo by John Jons.

I wish more gardeners understood that fall is a primary planting season in Texas Upper Gulf Coast. For years, horticulturists have tried to get the word out that November through February is the ideal time to plant hardy trees and shrubs in the landscape.

Planting in late November through December is especially good, since trees and shrubs planted now benefit in several ways. The plants are dormant during this time and are less likely to suffer as much from transplant shock. In addition, the cool weather and regular rainfall typical during the winter here allow the new plantings to settle in and adjust with little stress (and less work for you watering them). Better yet, hardy trees and shrubs are not damaged by normal winter freezes, even if newly planted.

SATURDAY, JANUARY 8: A Home Gardener’s Success with Square Foot Gardening. 9:00 a.m.-11:30 a.m. at the Galveston County Extension Office. Master Gardener John Jons is a square foot gardening enthusiast and will present a slide presentation on basic designs, soil preparation, plant selection and establishment, insect pest & disease control, and general care. Class size limited to 18 participants. No fee but reservation required (281-534-3413, Ext. 6 or GALV3@wt.net).

SATURDAY, JANUARY 15: Successful Spring Vegetable Gardening. 9:00-11:30 a.m. at the Galveston County Extension Office. Master Luke Stripling is a longtime home gardener and will present a slide presentation proven techniques for a productive spring vegetable garden. No fee but reservation required (281-534-3413, Ext. 6 or GALV3@wt.net).

The roots of trees and shrubs will actively grow during the fall and early winter, so planting in fall allows them to become well established prior to spring growth. By May of next year, trees and shrubs planted now will have developed better established root systems than those planted next spring. This will increase their ability to absorb water and survive that first stressful summer after planting.

Selecting Trees for the Landscape

When selecting trees to plant, keep in mind there is no one perfect tree. All trees have advantages and disadvantages, depending on the planting location and desired characteristics.

To help you make the best choices, here are some points you need to consider:

Select a tree that will mature at the appropriate size. A small patio might benefit from a small 25-foot tall tree planted nearby but would be completely overwhelmed by a large tree. Planting a tree that will grow too large for its location is one of the most common mistakes people make (along with planting too many trees). Find out the mature size a tree will achieve before you plant it.

Think about the purpose of the tree and why it is needed. This will help you determine what characteristics the tree should have such as its shape, size and rate of growth. Ornamental features, such as flowers, attractive berries, brightly colored fall foliage or unusual bark, also should be considered.

Decide if you want a tree that retains its foliage year-round (evergreen) or loses its leaves in the winter (deciduous). Deciduous trees are particularly useful where you want shade in the summer and sun in the winter. Small to medium-size evergreen trees are useful as sound barriers or privacy screens.

Choose trees that are well adapted to our local growing conditions. They must be able to tolerate long, hot summers and mild winters. Those conditions make a variety of northern species you might see in catalogs unsuitable for our area.

Don't forget to check the location of overhead power lines, and if you must plant under them, use small, low-growing trees. Also consider walks, drives and other paved surfaces that may be damaged by the roots of large trees. Locate large trees at least 15 feet away from paved surfaces and your house.

Tree Planting Guidelines

Planting trees properly is not difficult, but it can make the difference between success and failure. Whether the tree is balled and burlapped or container grown, dig the hole at least twice the diameter of the root ball and no deeper than the height of the root ball. When placed into the hole, the root ball should sit on solid, undisturbed soil.

Remove a container-grown tree from its container and place the tree gently in the hole. A root ball tightly packed with thick encircling roots indicates a root-bound condition. Try to unwrap or open up the root ball to encourage the roots to spread into the surrounding soil.

Place a balled and burlapped tree gently in the hole with the burlap intact. Once the tree is in the hole, pull out nails that pin the burlap around the root ball, remove any nylon twine or wire supports that may have been used and fold down the burlap.

The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the surrounding soil. It is very critical that you do not plant the tree too deep.

Thoroughly pulverize the soil you dug out of the hole and use this soil–without any soil amendments–to backfill around the tree. Add soil around the tree until the hole is about half full. Then firm the soil to eliminate air pockets, but do not pack it tight. Finish filling the hole, firm again and then water the tree thoroughly to settle it in.

Generally, we do not fertilize newly planted trees, but a slow-release fertilizer may be added to the upper 6 inches of soil when filling the hole. If the tree is tall enough to be unstable, it should be staked. Otherwise, that's not necessary.

(Information below is from the December 3, 2004 column.)


If you are stumped for ideas on holiday gifts, don't overlook the many gardening items that could please any member of the family. Power garden tools, hand tools for kids, special plants, nursery gift certificates, bird feeders, garden statuary, and books are just a few items nearly anyone would appreciate.


Prepare landscape plants for possible severe cold snaps by taking a few preventive steps to help avoid injury. If you trust your weather prognosticator and he or she predicts a hard freeze and if your soil is on the dry side at the time, then be sure to water your plants well prior to the freeze. Odd as it may appear, many plants are killed due to a lack of sufficient soil moisture. Providing a 4-to-6 inch layer of mulch (such as leaves, compost, or shredded pine bark) will also help to reduce cold injury. While plastic does not provide sufficient protection to plants during a hard freeze, it can be used to protect cold-sensitive plants against light frosts. However, be very sure to remove the plastic immediately after the danger from a light frost has passed-temperatures inside a clear plastic covering can become very high on a sunny day.


Keep the water reservoir in your Christmas tree stand filled with water at all times. A Christmas tree requires lots of water, especially when the home heating system is in operation. The tree will take up a larger quantity of water at first (as much as a gallon or more a day), but water uptake will slack off later. Tests show that a 6-foot Christmas tree will take up between 1 and 2 pints of water per day, on average, during a 3-week season.


Yes, weeds do continue to grow during the winter season. Do not let these unwanted bullies take over your flower beds. A two-to-three inch layer of mulch will prevent most cool season weed seeds from sprouting. It is more effective to keep weeds under control with regular efforts than to try to correct a situation that has gotten out of control due to inattention.


December through February is an excellent time to transplant trees and shrubs. Transplanting during the winter season allows the root system of transplants to become better established prior to spring growth and summer heat. This significantly reduces plant stress during the following summer.


Christmas poinsettias are widely available now. Each year, people express concern about the poisonous nature of these beautiful plants. Plant scientists at Ohio State University have proven through extensive testing that they are not poisonous. However, poinsettias may cause moderate to severe gastrointestinal disturbances when ingested in sufficient quantity. Always be sure to keep poinsettias well out of reach of inquisitive toddlers. There is always the possibility that some individuals may be especially sensitive to certain plants, including poinsettias.


Although Christmas is foremost on our minds right now, don't forget those tulip bulbs in the refrigerator as well as other types of bulbs requiring a chill treatment before planting (won't it be great to be able to reclaim that the refrigerator space). They should be planted in late December or by the first week in January after they have received 45-to-60 days of chilling. Tulip bulbs must be planted immediately upon removal from cold storage. Experimental evidence indicates that exposing bulbs to 10-to-14 days of room temperature (72 degrees F.) after removal from cold storage erases the benefits of cold storage.


Don't be in a hurry to prune woody plants. Very late December through early February is usually the best time to perform most winter pruning.

Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County
Extension Office of Texas Cooperative Extension, Texas A&M University. Visit his web site at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/galveston/index.htm

Gardening: Scale insects and pampas grass - July 17, 2004 article

Gardening: Bananas - August 1, 2004 article

Gardening: August Gardening Calendar - August 16, 2004 article

Gardening: Trio Of Extension Programs Includes Pear Tasting, Master Naturalist Class & Rose Seminar - August 20, 2004 article

Gardening: Prepare Now For Fall Gardens - August 26, 2004 article

Gardening: Septemberís Garden Calendar Includes Fall Pecan Field Day - September 2, 2004 article

Gardening: Ornamental Grasses - September 8, 2004 article

Gardening: Don't Let Landscape Become A High-Maintenance Nightmare - September 22, 2004 article

Gardening: Oct. 10 Plant Sale & Seminar To Feature Butterfly Gardening - Butterflies Bring Color, Motion to Garden - October 2, 2004 article

Gardening: Plant It And They Will Come: Getting the Butterflies of Galveston County to Grace Your Yard - October 2, 2004 article

Gardening: Rose Propagation & Seasonal Decorating Workshops To Be Held - October 13, 2004 article

Gardening: Extension Office To Sponsor Open House On October 29, Seasonal Decorations and Onion and Garlic Workshops - October 20, 2004 article

Gardening: Extension Office To Sponsor Open House On October 29 and County Pecan Show - October 27, 2004 article

Gardening: November Is Pansy Time - November 6, 2004 article

Gardening: County Pecan Growers Display Their Successes - November 11, 2004 article

Gardening: Gardeners' Questions On Fall Crops - November 17, 2004 article

Gardening: Gardenersí Q&As For November - November 28, 2004 article

Gardening: Gardeners' December Checklist Includes Citrus Show On Dec. 9 - December 3, 2004 article

Gardening: Citrus Show A Huge Success With 185 Entries - December 19, 2004 article


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