The following article should hopefully provide you with the basic knowledge to successfully plant a tree and achieve a high livability rate.

When you are ready to plant, dig a hole the depth of the root ball and half again as wide as the container. The soil you take out of the hole should be mixed with no more than 1/3 pine bark mulch and use that mixture to refill the hole when planting the tree. It is important that you use at least 2/3 of the native soil when back filling the hole. If you have a considerable amount of clay in the soil, the water will percolate slowly. The mulch will allow just enough water to penetrate into the root zone. (If you used only soft soil through which the water could penetrate quickly, you would end up with a bathtub effect where the water would stand in the hole and drown the roots.) The tree should be planted with the root ball at the existing soil level or slightly above and use the remaining soil mix to top dress over the root ball. Adding several inches of mulch over the top of the root ball will be beneficial in retaining moisture in the soil and protecting the root system from drying out too fast. The use of root stimulator is recommended to encourage new root development through the winter months. Just follow the directions on the bottle.

Staking the tree should not be necessary unless you encounter enough wind on a regular basis to cause the tree to blow over in the hole. If this happens, the new roots can be broken and delay the establishment of a good root system. If the tree is staked, there are staking kits available at the home improvement chain stores. The stakes can normally be removed in the late spring once new top growth has commenced.

The tree should be watered in well after it is initially planted and then enough water should be applied to keep the soil moist. A good way to know when it’s time to water is scratch the soil around the tree with your finger. If the top 2″of soil is dry, it is time to water.

I hope these suggestions will be helpful in achieving a healthy transplanted tree in your landscape and initiate vigorous new growth in the spring.

Mike Engleman, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Fall is the ideal time to plant trees for several reasons, but for those who are interested in fall color, fall is the time to view them at their peek. Here is a sample of some trees that provide great color:

  • Bigtooth maple ( Acer grandidentatum ) turns bright reddish orange and grows to 45 feet. This species can be difficult to find. Other good native maples for fall color include Red maple ( A. rubrum ) for reds and Southern Sugar maple ( A. barbatum ) for yellows. One good non-native is the Shantung maple ( A. truncatum ).
  • Texas or Shumard Red Oak ( Quercus spp. ) turns a beautiful bright red and grows 30 to 50 feet.
  • Chinese Pistache ( Pistacia chinensis ) turns orange to red or sometimes yellow and will reach a height of 60 feet.
  • Bald cypress ( Taxodium distichum ) turns bright copper and will reach a height of 50 to 75 feet.
  • Rusty blackhaw viburnum ( Viburnum rufidulum ) turns bright reddish purple, growing to 25 feet.
  • Ginkgo or Maidenhair tree ( Ginkgo biloba ) turns bright gold and grows to 60 feet.
  • Fringe Tree or Grancy Graybeard ( Chionanthus virginicus ) turns bright to deep yellow in fall, and grows to 20 feet. A cousin is the Chinese Fringe Tree ( C. retusus ).
  • Finally, best known for its outstanding color is Japanese maple ( Acer palmatum ). Some varieties turn so bright red that the tree appears to be on fire. Others sport yellow, orange, burgundy fall color. There are many varieties, with varying mature heights, but all are typically small trees.

Pat Massad, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


There are several trees found in the East Texas landscape that should be noted for
their colorful fall foliage. Some characteristics of the trees have been provided to help identify them.

  • Sweet gum – large tree star-shaped leaves; fall color is yellow to red-orange; spiny “fruit” drops by mid-fall.
  • Shumard, Northern Red Oak – these trees are very similar and hard to distinguish; very desirable large shade trees; fall colors are red to red-orange.
  • Bald Cypress – fern-like foliage turns coppery bronze in fall making bald cypress a highly prized tree in the landscape.
  • Flowering Pear – one of the first trees to bloom in spring; its leaves turn orange to red-orange for fall.
  • Chinese Pistache – considered a nearly perfect tree; spectacular to red-orange fall color.

Mary Ann Rogers, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Posted in Trees