Winter is ideal time to plant trees so they can develop healthy feeder roots

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

January may seem like a month when not much is happening in the landscape although that is quite the contrary. In the South, we don’t have a period when plants are completely dormant.

Although the deciduous trees look rather lifeless, much is going on within their bark.

Feeder roots of trees are actually growing right now in preparation for sending fresh nutrients to the outermost branches soon.

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Fertilizing established landscape trees soon allows feeder roots to have nourishment available for distributing throughout the plant as soon temperatures begin to rise a little. Feeding gives the plant what it needs just as it begins the uptake of nutrients with the rising sap, sending it to the newly forming leaves and branches of the new season.

Winter is the ideal time to plant trees because they can begin to develop healthy feeder roots now in preparation for the more demanding time when they must produce leaves and increased branching. Additionally, planting trees in winter makes life much simpler the first summer. The more established a tree is, the better chance it has during hot, dry periods.

Consider the planting site. Make sure it meets the light requirements of the species you are planning to grow. Drainage is another important factor to evaluate. Only set a plant out where it will have room to grow to its ultimate size. Planting cypress or live oak under a power line is not a good idea because eventually they must be harshly cut back.

Pruning established trees if it is necessary can also be done this month. Quite often, trees don’t require any pruning. Unless you are intentionally trying to produce a specialized form, don’t ever prune out the top. A tree naturally produces a columnar structure called a central leader, or trunk. This structure is specially designed to support the branches, foliage, flowers and fruit.

Most of the time, trees should be pruned to enhance the natural growth habit of the species. Of course there are always a few exceptions. Training an espalier where a tree is pruned to grow flat against a wall or the open head method required for healthy peach production are examples. Both are high maintenance as far as pruning is concerned.

The most famous improperly pruned southern tree is no doubt the crape myrtle and once it’s been butchered, it will always look bad. Sadly, it may be best in this case to cut the tree completely to the ground and begin training some of the new suckers in spring or plant a new one. I’ll never understand the topping of crape myrtles. If left alone, these are such beautiful trees in terms of bark and natural form. Winter really shows off a specimen crape myrtle as well as one that looks like cut off sticks stuck in the ground.

Basically pruning should be done to remove damaged or weak wood, branches that are rubbing together, or to thin out for more light and air movement. Proper pruning should enhance the overall shape and health of a tree.

Remember. Think before you prune.


Traci Maier