Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
October, 2000
Regional Report

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Check now for the tree or shrub to buy to give you the fall color you desire.

Plants for Fall Color

This is the perfect time of year to plant a tree to beautify your yard. Planting now while the weather and soil are still warm enables the roots to get well established before they go dormant. This will prepare the tree for the spring surge of both foliage and root growth.

Deciding on a Tree

If you haven't already, now is a good time to check out what the neighbors are growing. This will help you decide on the best tree for your yard. Also, decide what you want from a tree, especially where it will be planted and for what purpose. If you want summer shade for the house, a deciduous tree planted on the south side would be appropriate. If you prefer a pleasant window view, a grouping of silver birches might be nice.

Trees for Fall Color

Fall colors come alive with many trees, such as beech, birch, coral tree, gingko, liquidambar, magnolia, maidenhair, Japanese and other maples, crape myrtle, persimmon, Chinese pistache, sour gum, Chinese tallow, tulip tree (named for its tulip-shaped leaves), and zelkova.

Avoid planting trees that are prone to wind damage, such as acacia, ash, cypress, elm, eucalyptus, California pepper, and pine.

Sizing Your Tree

Once you've made a preliminary choice, consider the mature size of the tree - will the area you have in mind allow the tree sufficient space when it's mature? Have you planned for the different requirements of the shaded and moist soil underneath its widespread limbs? Once you've found a tree that meets all your needs, go out and buy it!

Proper Tree Planting

Dig a hole that's just as deep as the container, but four times as wide. This is to encourage the fibrous feeder roots to move quickly out into the native soil and anchor the tree well. Rough up the outer inch or 2 of the rootball to loosen it. This will invigorate the roots to quickly reestablish themselves in their new home.

Steady the rootball in the hole at the same level it was in the container and refill the planting hole halfway. Press down the soil in the hole as well as you can with your foot without stomping on it. You want to stabilize the tree but not compress the air out of the soil. Then fill the hole to the level of the surrounding soil and press it down.

Hold the Amendments

Current recommendations from the University of California are to withhold amendments as you backfill the planting hole. You want the tree roots to extend into the native soil, and they won't do that if they have the choice of staying within the "more comfortable" soil in the planting hole.

Berms and Mulch

Create a shallow berm of soil 1 foot out from the rootball. Fill the berm with water - when the water's absorbed, fill it again. This will ensure that both the rootball and the surrounding soil will remain evenly moist. Then break down the berm, so winter rains don't drown the tree. Leave a "breathing space" of at least 6 inches around the trunk, and from that point spread a 2- or 3-inch layer of mulch several feet out.

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