Tips for adding to your landscape this fall

Fall is my favorite time to plant gorgeous additions to my landscape. I know, most people love spring. But I love autumn, with its crisp air, leaves and everything slowing down in the yard.

Luckily, the Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Service’s Tree Auction and Plant Sale is Saturday, Oct. 6, and it’s a great place to buy reasonably-priced plants and rub elbows with gardeners.

The tree auction, run by Buster Cattles, usually features more than 100 trees. Wondering what kind there will be? Well, that’s a surprise. Local nurseries deliver the trees immediately before the auction, so no one knows what types will be offered, according to CSU horticultural educator Susan Rose.

There’s also a plant and shrub sale, with plants donated by nurseries, farms, garden centers and master gardeners. Proceeds benefit the Master Gardener program and public education. Gates open at 9 a.m. at the Mesa County Fairgrounds. The auction starts at 10 a.m. and will probably last until noon. The rest of the sale lasts until 1 p.m.

If you’re planning on purchasing a tree and planting it this fall, here are some good tips. Additional information is available from CSU Cooperative Extension Service at 244-1834.


It’s a good idea to make sure you’re not digging around any gas lines, so I’ll leave that up to you to determine at your house.

I also think it’s important to envision how large your tree will grow, and how close it will be to overhead power lines and structures in your yard. This may be hard for you to imagine, but you will regret planting an Autumn Purple Ash a mere 10 feet from your house, since it could eventually have a canopy stretching 50 feet wide.

It’s good to research the type of tree you are considering for the purpose in your yard. Several factsheets on tree varieties are available at


Preparing the correctly sized hole for the tree is important. I like to leave a tree in the container it came in until I get the hole properly dug, so I don’t hurry to plop it into the ground.

Dig a hole using the size of the tree’s root ball as a guide. The hole should be about 2 inches shallower than the root ball, since you don’t want the tree sunk down in the hole. The width of the hole should be three times the width of the root ball. Digging a saucer-shaped hole (think of a bowl with sloped sides as your hole) is also recommended by researchers for root development and watering reasons.

I used to put fertilizer into the planting hole, until I took the Master Gardener class. This is a big no-no, as fertilizer can burn the roots and hurt your tree.

Don’t make my old mistake. Instead, mix in compost and other organic material to enrich your backfill.

Make sure to remove whatever sort of container was used to contain the roots of the tree before planting it. Some trees have burlap, chicken wire, twine or plastic material surrounding the root ball. This material will only hinder the tree’s development, causing circling roots that eventually kill the tree or preventing proper root growth.

Even if the tree is in a supposedly biodegradable fiber pot, remove it. They don’t decompose as fast as you think, and may wick water away from the tree if it protrudes above ground.


Chances are, if you buy a tree in a container that has been growing for a long time at a nursery, the roots have reached the barrier of their container and started circling around the pot. These are called encircling roots. If you plop the tree in the ground without fixing this problem, the roots will continue to circle around and will eventually girdle the tree and kill it.

To remedy this problem, I take an x-acto knife and slash the roots from the top to the bottom of the rootball a few times, and I also cut an “x” in the bottom of the matted roots smashed at the bottom of the pot. You want to interrupt the circling growing pattern of the roots so they will start spreading out in the soil. This seems harsh, but slash away.


Slowly water your new tree. You’re looking for percolation, not a blast of water. Using low pressure will help the water absorb.

Resist the urge to stamp down the soil with your foot. I have no idea where that bad habit came from, but don’t do it.

As the water settles the soil, you will probably need to add more backfill. Resist the urge to cover the area near the trunk (that’s supposed to be above-grade) with soil. You can add a few inches of mulch to help keep the soil moist and retain water.

Rose recommends watering new trees carefully to establish them before winter sets in.

“With newly planted trees, I would check them weekly, and after that, they should be watered at least once a month,” she said. I take a trowel and dig a few inches down into the soil near the roots, grab a handful of soil, and see if I can make a ball with it when I close my fist. If it’s moist and sticks together like good pie dough, I don’t need to water. If it’s crumbly and dry, it’s time to water.”

Erin McIntyre is a writer, apprentice master gardener and owner of the gourmet pickle company, Yum Pickles. Email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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