7 common mistakes when planting seedlings in the fall


If a young tree or bush dies, we usually blame unscrupulous sellers, the “vagaries” of the climate, and a “bad” site.

But often the loss of planting material is directly related to the mistakes we make when planting seedlings.

Planting new shrubs and trees is one of the main concerns of the gardener. Often gardeners prefer spring tree planting, considering it easier and more timely. However, under-winter planting of seedlings can be no less effective, especially if you manage to avoid some typical mistakes, which we will tell you today.

Mistake #1. Incorrect timing for planting seedlings

Beginning in August, seedling sellers line the roads and fairs, heavily advertising their wares. The temptation to buy a seedling that is “at hand” is very great. Often, however, spontaneous outlets sell anything but plants that have been zoned and grown in specialized nurseries. And they encourage people to plant them at almost any time. Those who succumb to their entreaties are subsequently surprised why the plant did not take root.

Most often, autumn planting is practiced in the southern regions and the middle belt with a temperate climate

Buy seedlings from reliable breeders and make sure the varieties are zoned for your area. The timing of planting, of course, varies from region to region and even from season to season. As a general rule of thumb, nurseries begin digging seedlings in mid-September (with earlier digging, plants that have not yet completed their vegetation will become diseased for a long time or die altogether). But the deadline for planting most garden crops is 15-20 October. Planting after this date is not recommended and is carried out entirely at your own risk.   

Mistake #2. Planting a seedling in a freshly dug hole of the wrong size

Often gardeners in a hurry buy seedlings in the fall and immediately plant them in a permanent place, without even taking care of the planting hole. In fact, they are placed on fresh and even not yet settled mounds and covered with earth. As a result of such careless planting, the plant grows poorly develops poorly, and may even die.

Planting seedlings without planting pits is only possible on loam and peat bog and at the close location of groundwater.

The survival rate of a seedling will depend on many factors, and the competent arrangement of a planting hole is one of them. “Nest” for a tree or shrub is prepared well in advance – 1-2 months before the date of intended planting (the minimum allowable period – 2 weeks before planting).

In a small hole, the roots of a seedling do not grow sideways, as they should, but begin to bend inward, because of which the plant develops slowly and often becomes ill

The diameter of the planting holes for stone fruits (cherry, cherry, cherry plum, plum) is at least 40-50 cm, and in-depth – 50-60 cm. Seed crops (apple and pear) are planted in pits with a diameter of at least 60-80 cm and a depth of at least 80 cm.

Correctly planted seedlings grow quickly, and live long, rejoicing with fast fruiting and abundant yields later. After all, a well-developed root system is important for this, and it is laid literally from the first days after planting.

For berry bushes (currants, gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries), planting pits are dug with the size of 40 × 40 cm.

Useful information about the autumn planting of raspberries: terms and technology, care of seedlings.

When digging the hole, put the top fertile layer to one side, and the bottom non-fertile bedding – to the other. Mix the fertile soil with decomposed manure or compost (add 2 buckets of fertilizer when planting trees, 1 bucket when planting shrubs).

Having dug a hole of the desired depth, loosen the soil at the bottom to a depth of the bayonet of the spade. When planting the seedling, set a peg in the center, to which the tree will be tied. Cover the support with fertile soil mixed with organic fertilizer. On the resulting mound, set the seedling and spread its roots.  

When planting trees, make sure that the root neck of the seedling (the place where the root system passes into the above-ground part) is a few centimeters above ground level.

The exception is raspberries, in which the root neck should be located 3-4 cm above the soil level.

Mistake #3. Overgrowth of plantings

Unfortunately, most of us do not have the largest plots of land. Therefore, the desire to break up the largest garden in a small area is quite natural. But over time, the growing trees overshadow each other and actively compete for nutrients in the soil. This leads to the withering of individual specimens and a reduction in overall yields.

With dense plantings, plants are more likely to become diseased and more quickly affected by pests.

Mistake #4. Unsuitable soil for planting

Depleted or over-fertilized soil will be a bad “home” for young plants. It needs to be prepared for planting seedlings and this is not as difficult as it may seem.

When planting in the fall, the seedling roots will begin strong growth only in the spring, when the soil in the planting hole will already be dense enough

As organic fertilizer for the planting hole will suit the already mentioned decomposed manure or compost (up to 30 kg per hole). In clay soils, you need to add 3-5 buckets of coarse sand, and for sandy soil – the same amount of clay. You can also lay a layer of turf (grass down) at the bottom of the planting hole. If earthworms live in it, over time they will increase the humus content of the soil and allow the seedlings to get the necessary supply of minerals.

Mistake #5. Temporary planting of seedlings “under winter”

It is during the fall digging that can cause irreparable damage to the seedling. Gardeners sometimes confuse temporary burying with permanent burying or “forget” seedlings right on the plot. Temporary mowing is carried out either directly before planting the plant, or before putting it into winter storage. Its main purpose is to protect the roots from drying out. To do this, a small depression is dug, seedlings are laid at a slope so that the root system “hides” in the hole, and is slightly covered with earth.

The pit should be sized to accommodate the roots of all plants to be dug for the winter.

In some cases, you don’t even dig a hole for the roots, but simply pour an earth mound on top. In this form, the seedlings are fine to winter. But in the spring, as soon as the soil thaws, they must be dug up and planted in a permanent place.

If you did not have time to plant seedlings in the fall, it is better to do them for winter storage. To do this, lay the young trees with their crowns to the south in deep grooves. The south wall of the grooves should be located at an angle of 45 degrees. The distance between the stems should be 10-15 cm. Cover the roots with soil and compact it slightly to fill in all the gaps between the roots. When the hole is half full, sprinkle it with water and backfill the remaining soil up to the base of the branches. To avoid rooting out of the soil and exposure to severe frosts, bury the seedlings no later than October 20.

Mistake #6. Excessive watering of seedlings

After planting in a permanent place seedlings often and without reason begin to water with a large amount of water. Since this is done in a hurry, the trees are watered with ordinary artesian water. In dry weather, this leads to the formation of a crust that “clogs” the root system and prevents oxygenation.

After planting, young seedlings should be watered at the rate of 3-4 buckets of water per tree and 1-2 buckets of water per bush regardless of the moisture content of the soil. When the water is absorbed, bedding circles should be mulched with peat, humus, compost or just dry earth. No more watering of plants until spring.

Mistake #7. Incorrect installation of the peg. 

After watering and compaction, pay attention to the position of the peg. It is installed not for beauty, but to fix the young plant in the soil. This ensures good rooting and holds the seedling in wind gusts. If the peg is placed in the ground unstably, over time, the tree itself may fall.

Select stakes according to the size of the seedling – the higher the plant, the higher and thicker the stakes should be

First, it should be hammered into the ground to a depth of 15-20 cm. Secondly, the seedling should be tied to the support in a figure of eight. It is this method that ensures good rooting of the seedling and shock absorption in case of strong wind.  

The top of the peg should be located just below the level of the crown of the tree. 

Now you know what mistakes gardeners make most often, engaged in planting seedlings in the autumn. Perhaps you have your own list of blunders that you made. Share it in the comments – let’s “work on the mistakes” together!

About the Author: Amanda Johnson

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