We are lucky that our climate permits the planting of trees and shrubs just about all year long.

Bare-rooted plants can be planted in the winter and early spring. The advantage of bare- root planting is that you can back fill the hole with the dirt you dug out, which helps get uniform water penetration to the root area.

Be sure that any bare-rooted plants you buy have fresh, plump roots. Even so, the root system should be soaked briefly in a bucket of water. When you dig the hole, make the sides of the hole rough, not smooth. After the initial watering, water sparingly. Dormant plants need less water than growing ones.

Trees and shrubs in containers can be planted in any season. They are easy to transport and planting can be delayed, if need be. The plant should look healthy and not be seriously root- bound.

When you plant, loosen the roots and spread them out in the hole. Fill in with dirt and pack it down firmly. Form a ridge of soil around the plant to make a moat that will keep water from running off. Then water the plant thoroughly.

Helen Sanders, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Dormant fruit and ornamental trees are frequently sold “bare-root”, packaged with damp moss or sawdust covering the roots. Treated properly, they will perform as well as container-grown plants.

Purchase and plant three- to four-foot trees with good root systems while fully dormant (December-February). Before planing, remove packing material. Soak the roots in water no more than one hour, and remove any that are broken.

Dig the planting hole just large enough for the root system to be spread in a natural position. Set the plant even with -its original depth, which is indicated by a change in color on the stem. Do not add fertilizer to the hole. However, root stimulator, available at local garden centers, may be applied according to label directions. Thoroughly water the tree. Be sure that air-pockets in the hole are filled and that the soil is at the proper level at the base of the tree after watering. Remove all tags and strings that may girdle fast growing stems.

A fertility program should begin in late fall of the first growing season for ornamental trees. Fruit trees can be fertilized the first year after they leaf out in spring and begin active growth.

Robin Wright Brumbelow, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Don’t wait till spring to set out a new tree. Do it now and it will have several more months to establish roots before hot weather comes again.

Plan a little. Consider how big your tree will eventually become and give it plenty of room away from power lines, buildings and other trees. Also, select a tree that has few problems. Natives are good choices.

Dig the hole only as deep as the tree is in its nursery container or, for balled-and-burlapped plants, use the depth of the root ball. Make the hole twice as wide as the nursery container or root ball. Remove the container, of course, but for balled-and-burlapped trees, leave the burlap – just take away any twine or clips. Balled-and-burlapped trees should also be pruned by thinning about one-third at planting time (the tops, not the roots).

When you place your tree in the hole, make sure the base of the trunk is even with the soil line, not higher or lower. Fill the hole with the soil you dug out. Amending the back-fill soil with compost, etc., is not recommended as you might create an in-ground “bowl” that will encourage the roots to circle rather than extending outward over time.

After planting, water the tree well. You can make a low berm around the tree to keep the water from quickly running off. Then mulch the tree to protect it from the next freeze.

You might also want to dig out another foot or two around the tree and plant a few bulbs and some pansies. Or use some of the perennials you’ve divided and haven’t found a place for.

Rosemary Moyers, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


A tree planted in fall will develop a root system that will more easily sustain the tree during the summer growth and heat. Select balled & burlapped or container stock. Dig a hole that is one and a half to two times larger across than the size of the ball. For the depth of the hole, the ball of the tree should be sitting slightly above the ground. Be careful not to dig the hole too deep, the soft backfilled soil will sink and so will the tree. A tree planted too deep may die. After setting the tree in the hole, for a ball or burlapped tree loosen the wire or burlap around the top. For container trees, check that no roots are wrapped around the ball. Either straighten out the roots or prune them off. These roots could eventually strangle the tree. Before backfilling, fill the hole with water and then put in your dirt. This water will make sure that no air pockets are formed as you back fill that could harm the tree. A small ring of dirt a foot or more from the
trunk will serve to hold in future watering. A tree may need to be staked for a year or two until it develops a strong root system. Use wire or rope run through pieces of hose. Put stakes into ground at an angle. Leave enough slack in the wire or rope to allow some movement of the tree. This movement will help strengthen the trunk. Place some colorful flags on the wires for safety. If given proper care, a tree can provide us much beauty and enjoyment.

Linda Sargent, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Your soil may be too wet for a newly planted tree to do well. This may be due to a hardpan under the topsoil, but this condition can be remedied with the following procedure.

  • Dig a four-foot deep hole with a posthole digger at the planned tree site.
  • Fill this hole with coarse pea gravel up to the depth at which you plan to plant the tree.
  • With a shovel, remove the soil from around this posthole to twice the diameter of the tree container or the root spread of the tree to be planted.
  • Remove the tree from the container and gently loosen the roots. If any roots have circled the root ball, cut them, as they will girdle the tree if left. With a bare-root tree, spread the roots and trim off any broken ends.
  • Place the tree in the hole so that it will be at the same level with the ground that it grew in the container or in the nursery. Back fill with the original soil, gently firming the soil around the roots until the hole is about 3/4th full. Fill this hole with water and let it settle out.
  • Then finish filling the hole to ground level and make a ridge or berm around the circumference of the hole to make a saucer-like area around the tree to hold water.
  • Place four inches of mulch over the planting area. Pull the mulch back from the tree trunk so that none of it touches the trunk.

Max S. Sheehey, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Although the ideal transplanting time in East Texas is early February, now is a good time to get ready for the newest member of your landscape family.

After choosing a specimen tree or bush for your landscape, you should have done some root pruning to the transplanted around June or July. This is where you take a sharp shooter shovel and cut the lateral roots about two inches smaller than the root ball you intend to dig up and move. You can do that now if you did not do it in summer; just skip a shovel width and cut down, making a dotted line around the tree. This will not set the tree back too much and will encourage
some root growth in the root ball area by February.

Choose the spot where you are going to put the plant and dig a hole, fill it with organic material and at the same time get a soil sample. Try to give your transplant relatively the same light, soil chemistry and pH it had in its native spot.

In late January or early February, dig and move your tree or bush, keeping as much roil intact as possible, and add a root stimulator as recommended.

Chuck Desmond, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Posted in Trees