Published on 01/20/97

Planting in Dead of Winter OK in Georgia Landscapes

If you just can't wait to plant that special landscape tree, why wait? In Georgia, the dead of winter isn't all that dead.

"We have such great root weather, roots don't really have a dormant period here," said Kim Coder, a forester with the University of Georgia Extension Service.

People landscaping can learn a lesson from commercial foresters, Coder said. In January and February, they're busy planting pines across countless Georgia acres.

Why don't they wait until spring? Because there's much more harm in waiting too long than in planting too early.

"Roots are active and growing in a lot colder soil than people may think," Coder said.

As the weather warms in spring, he said, the roots get a head start on the foliage. And that's the way it should be, because the aboveground parts of the tree depend greatly on the root system underground.

In Georgia, summer is the real test. "You need to give the roots as much time as you can to get established before it gets hot," Coder said.

The hardest part now may be finding the tree. But if you go to a good nursery or garden center, you'll probably find plants more available than you thought.

"Go to a reputable nursery or garden center and pick out the tree you want," he said. "A Georgia-grown tree is best. It will be more adapted to our climate and less prone to environmental stress."

Coder said it's critical to plant a commercially grown tree.

"There are a few pathogens out there that will take advantage of trees that are just sitting there dormant," he said. "You won't normally have to worry about those if you start with a good-quality, nursery-grown tree.

"If you just go out and steal an orphan out of the woods," he said, "you're going to get a tree with a poor root system. And you just might bring in a pathogen or insect that could make lunch out of your yard."

Choose a place in your landscape where the tree will have plenty of room when it's mature. Then plant the tree in a big, well-prepared hole.

Add two to three inches of organic mulch over an area extending well beyond the root ball. That will help keep the soil temperature and moisture more even.

Water it well. That's critical, even when the winter cold and spring's mild weather don't remind you of the need.

"You really need to baby your tree through the first year," Coder said. Make sure it gets the water regularly. Do whatever you need to do to protect it from lawn mowers, string trimmers, children, pets and anything else that might injure it.

"Then, during drought times for the first three years, water the tree," he said. "If you do all that, you should have a healthy tree that will outlive you."

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.