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Tuesday, September 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Washington Voices

Add fall color to your garden with trees and shrubs

By Pat Munts

I was in Deer Park and Sandpoint last weekend to give some talks. Getting the chance to visit with folks about community gardens and beneficial insects was a lot of fun, but seeing the beginnings of fall color was an added treat. In a few short weeks northeast Washington will be a blaze of golds.

The trees in our own gardens can provide just the same blaze of color and now is a great time to add that color to the garden.

First though, take good care of your existing trees by making sure they go into winter in good shape. Before you shut down your sprinklers give everything in the garden a deep soaking. This will get water deep into the soil horizon and help the tree roots prepare for winter.

Hold any pruning until late winter and early spring when the trees are dormant. In the fall the trees go through a process that pulls food stores from the branches and leaves down to the roots. Pruning now would interrupt that process. Pruning now also opens plants to freeze damage. Last October’s cold snap damaged a lot of trees. Loose, floppy shrubs with long upright branches that can bend under a snow load should be spiral wrapped with a biodegradable twine to help hold them together. Remove it in the spring. Don’t fertilize shrubs and trees now as they can’t use it effectively. Wait until late winter.

Need more color? There is still time to plant container-grown and balled and burlapped trees and shrubs. Some of the nurseries may still have plants available at good prices.

Taking the time to properly plant a tree will add years to the life of the plant. Dig a saucer-shaped hole three times the width of the root ball and deep enough to set the root flare at the soil line. The root flare is the point where the trunk flares out to form the roots. Gently remove pots from containerized plants and place them in the hole. Rough up the root ball a bit and untangle any roots winding around the container. Place balled and burlapped trees in the hole and then remove all the twine and as much of the burlap as you can. Try not to break up the root ball as this will break fine roots. If the root flare isn’t visible, dig into the top of the root ball to find it.

Back fill the hole with native soil and level it at the root flare point. Have the hose running in the hole as you fill it. Gently tamp the soil around the roots. Create a two-foot basin around the tree to catch water. Fill this up a couple of times with water and let it drain. Mulch the root area to within six inches of the trunk with three inches of compost, bark or shredded leaves and needles to help retain moisture. Unless you live in an area that gets hammered with winds, trees do not need to be staked.

Pat Muntscan be reached by e-mail at

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