Autumn is a great time to buy and plant trees in this valley. Prices are usually lower than they are in the spring, and planting in early fall allows the root system to develop in place, without the urge of spring growth.
Be sure you’ve selected the right tree for the site you have in mind: no gas, cable or electric problems where you’ll dig the root hole, and no overhead wires for the tree to obstruct. You need correct sun exposure and good drainage. Only bog plants tolerate standing water.
There’s a lot of help at cityofboise.org/forestry for tree selection, planting, pruning and care.
When you get your tree, first of all, locate the flare of the trunk – where the trunk meets the topmost roots. Do not bury or let others bury this flare. Ever. If the flare is not visible in the root ball or container, carefully remove the covering soil to expose it. The flare even can be placed 2 or 3 inches above the soil’s surface. This will govern the depth at which you’ll plant, for that flare must be at the soil’s surface for the life and vigor of the tree.
Dig your hole two to three times wider than the root ball and rough up the surface of the perimeter of the circle so that you’re not creating an impenetrable bowl for those roots. If the roots within the root ball or the container are circling, either straighten them out or cut them out. Never plant the root ball with its cover intact, and don’t let anyone else do that, for it will encourage root circling instead of spreading, and therefore shorten the life of the tree. You do not need soil “improvements.” Let your tree adapt to your soil.
If we’ve learned one thing from hurricanes, it’s that the shallowness and width of tree roots governs the tree’s stability and health. Those roots need oxygen to thrive. Make sure the tree is straight, then begin backfilling and firming the soil in the hole. You do not want air spaces around the roots (they’ll manage to get their oxygen through dry soil pores). If necessary, stake the tree to make sure it remains straight.
I had a volunteer Zizyphus (Chinese date) tree lying on the ground. After deciding it was in an acceptable spot, I had a garden helper set up three stakes around the base of the tree, raised the tree (about 2 feet long/high), and tied plastic around the three stakes to keep the tree from falling to the ground again. By leaving the tree loose within the 8-inch enclosure, the tiny tree could blow in the wind, and that blowing around is what strengthens tree trunks. It’s still upright, more than 6 feet tall now. The stronger trees are at the edge of the forest, not the center.
This is also the time to pay attention to your lawn. If you collect your lawn clippings instead of letting them decay, feeding your lawn, you should apply one-fourth of the lawn’s annual fertilizer requirement now, and in November, one-half of the total. The final quarter should be applied in May, before hot weather arrives.
Most gardening sources advise “garden cleanup” to deprive squash bugs and other malcontents of wintering places, but they’ll get snug far from your garden. I’ve seen them between boards of a basketweave fence, or under my deck. They’ve even tried to get into the house. Just do your best about garden cleanup. If you do your own composting, you’ll have materials beginning to decompose that you want to remain in place, and most of us have empty pots waiting for new plants – a lot of hiding places for insects.
Start lettuce indoors for transplanting out before hard frost. The soil may be too warm for lettuce germination now. You can also start spinach now, but it’s tricky this time of year because if we have prolonged heat, the spinach will quickly bolt. Light frosts won’t hurt it but could set it back a bit. If you get it germinated and have tiny seedlings, then winter arrives in full force, the spinach might just wait for warmer weather and more sunny hours before resuming growth. I’ve been amazed at the resilience of very tiny lettuce and spinach seedlings, waiting weeks for warmer weather.
We often have warm spells in January, but vigorous growth really waits for the 10-plus hours of daylight each day, and that starts in early February. The late Ross Hadfield’s advice was fine for this area: Put out your lettuce seeds in late autumn, even at Thanksgiving time. Don’t bother to water them; let nature do that. You’ll harvest the sweetest early lettuce you’ve ever had.
Send garden questions to email@example.com or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.