Getting to The Root of Tree Planting Season

Graphic of a person planting a tree over a photo of two trees ready to be planted.

Once the weather starts to turn chilly, and we move into the months that end in “ber,” many people believe the planting season is over until Spring. While this is true for most plants, the same is not true for trees. The tree planting season in the Austin area is from October to March — or from Halloween to April Fool’s Day. Trees thrive when planted after the hottest summer days are gone, and the ground isn’t frozen yet.

Trees are vital to the environment because, in addition to pulling in carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen, trees may reduce the amount of stormwater runoff. This reduces erosion and pollution in our waterways and may also reduce the effects of flooding. Additionally, many wildlife species depend on trees for their habitat, protection, and food. Humans benefit from the shade and food trees provide.

Here are some tree-planting tips from the City of Austin’s Urban Forestry Division:

  1. Choose the Right Tree for the Right Place: Plant a tree where it has room to grow to maturity. Consider the distance it will be from other trees, built structures, and sidewalks.
  2. Buy a high-quality tree: Visit a local nursery that has trees that are well-adapted to our climate. Examine the roots, branching structure, and trunk.
  3. Time to Dig In: The hole should only be dug as deep as the root ball. This might be shallower than it appears in the container. To find the proper depth, locate the root flare (the area where the trunk tapers out to meet the lateral roots). You may need to brush off excess soil from the top of the root ball to find the root flare.
  4. Prepare the root ball: Remove the tree from the pot. Once it is out of the pot, you need to correct any circling roots at the outside of the ball. If you have one tree and lots of time, you can untangle the roots to spread them throughout the planting hole.
  5. Place the tree: Once you have teased out the roots, create a small mound in the hole to stand the trunk on and spread the roots outward along the mound.
  6. Fill up the hole: Replace the soil you dug out of the hole a little at a time, alternating with water to help fill in any air pockets. Don’t pack the soil down. Let it settle with the water.
  7. Water: By now, the hole should be full of both water and soil. If there is still dry soil, water one more time to thoroughly soak the planting hole.
  8. Mulch: After the water soaks in a bit, add a layer of mulch around the tree three to four inches deep. Learn more: “Mulch is key to a healthy Austin Tree.” 
  9. Stake only if necessary: Stakes can interfere with a tree’s development, so avoid them if you can. If a tree is very top-heavy or has a weak stem, stakes should be installed loosely to permit tree movement, then removed after 1-2 years.

Visit Steps to plant a tree in Austin for more in-tree-guing information.