Late one afternoon this past summer, two of our neighbor’s mature maple trees came tumbling down during a heavy rainstorm. Fortunately, the trees fell more into the street and not on our houses. After I had made sure everyone was okay, my next thought was to go check on our pawpaw tree planted near the path of the fallen trees.
To my excitement, the pawpaw tree was still standing and it only received minor damage on one side.
Since I love to plant trees, the next day my mind was on what tree we could plant for our neighbor since fall is right around the corner and the best time to plant.
Best planting time
Why is fall the best time for planting? The most important reason is that, as the top portion of the tree goes dormant, the root system does not have to support it and can concentrate on its own growth and development. The root systems of most trees and shrubs will continue to grow as long as the soil temperatures are favorable, which is usually well into December throughout Kentucky. So the stronger and more developed the root system is before the spring flush of growth, the better.
The second reason is really more about us as gardeners. Trees that are dormant require less water than those that are actively growing or will begin active growth soon. So if you plant a tree in the fall (mid-October or later) you won’t have to water it as much and in some cases not at all. Less work means more time to enjoy the garden.
If you have a farm or large piece of land where it is nearly impossible or just a lot of work to get water to the planting site, then November is the optimal time for you to be planting. October is traditionally a very dry month, so the chances that you will have to water are still relatively high. In November, there is usually adequate rain so watering is generally not necessary.
As with everything surrounding the garden, nothing is set in stone. Planting in the spring is certainly the most motivating and popular time to plant. Sometimes gardening is not about being popular, but about being successful. So know what works best for you in your own situation and set your goals accordingly.
If you are thinking about what trees to plant this fall, consider a few of our Kentucky native species like my own pawpaw, Asimina triloba. The common pawpaw is also often called the custard-apple or wild banana tree due to the shorter and fatter banana-like fruits. Edible, although I didn’t really care for the flavor, the texture of the fruit is very soft; they taste as the common name suggests—like custard or pudding. It isn’t ripe until the fruits are almost black and very soft, so you might not want to do what the wonderful old Kentucky song Pawpaw Patch (unknown author) suggests about “Pickin’ up pawpaws, puttin’ ’em in your pocket.”
The pawpaw makes a nice street tree because it only grows 15 to 25 feet tall. They can grow equally wide, but it is quite easy to remove the lower limbs, making them easy to walk or drive underneath.