What to plant in Autumn? Trees & Shrubs

By Andy McIndoe

How to get the best results when planting shrubs and trees – autumn planting  

Autumn is the best time to plant new trees, shrubs, roses and climbers in your garden. Certainly container grown plants have made it possible for the gardener to plant at any time of the year, but autumn is still favourite. The soil is warm and there is usually adequate rainfall. You will need to water at the time of planting, but you won’t need to worry too much before growth starts again in spring. Deciduous trees and shrubs are about to lose their leaves, so they will not have foliage to support while roots become established. It’s also the best time to move and transplant any shrubs or trees, do it as soon as those leaves fall.

2. Acer palmatum Sango Kaku
Acer ‘Sango kaku’

The better job you do when planting, the more successfully your new or transplanted plants will establish and the better the results in the long term. Few gardens are blessed with deep, well-drained fertile soil where everything thrives. Most of us have to help with good ground cultivation and the addition of a shrub and tree planting compost. It also makes all the difference if you add the right slow release fertiliser that provides those nutrients needed for root growth and development the following season.

Add planting compost Adding planting compost

However there is something else you can add which makes all the difference: mycorrhizal fungi. Many plants grow in close association with microscopic fungi in the soil. These fungi produce a strand-like mycelium which forms a close association with the roots of a plant helping it to absorb moisture and nutrients from the soil. In effect it’s a secondary root system. If you add dried mycorrhizal fungi at the time of planting these develop into the supportive mycelium quickly cutting down the time it takes for a new or transplanted shrub to establish and helping the plant thrive in subsequent seasons.

Ready to plant Ready to plant

Vitax have come up with a clever blend of Vitax Q4 professional fertiliser: the one I always recommend for general feeding and planting and mycorrhizal fungi to give you the ultimate planting fertiliser. Vitax Q4 professional was originally developed as a base fertiliser to use in potting media. Therefore it contains all the main plant nutrients and those trace elements that plants need in much smaller quantities. These are missing from many other general fertilisers. All you need to do is sprinkle a little in the bottom of the planting hole when planting.

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I say that’s all you need to do, but in fact the preparation of that planting hole is all important. A great gardener once told me that the secret of success was to start by digging a hole as big as the root system would be in ten years time. That may be hard to estimate so I say dig a planting hole that’s at least three times width of the existing rootball of the plant and at least twice its depth. Then fork over the bottom of the hole to break up the soil and encourage the roots to grow into the soil below.

Fork over the base of the hole Fork over base of hole

It is essential that you water any container plant thoroughly before you go ahead and plant it. If it’s dry submerge it in a bucket of water until it stops bubbling. If you plant a dry plant at any time of the year water will struggle to penetrate the rootball if the plant has been grown in a soil-less growing medium.

If you are planting bare root shrubs, in other words those that have been dug up and sold, it pays to soak the roots in water for a couple of hours before planting. Roses are often sold in this way by mail order. The roots can be really dry when they arrive and have perhaps waited a few days before you get around to planting them. If you are transplanting a shrub then make sure you watered it thoroughly in its original position before you transplant it.

Mix in planting compost Mix in planting compost

Then mix a generous amount of shrub and tree planting compost into the soil at the bottom of the hole and the heap of soil you have removed. This is particularly important on very heavy or very light soils; this is your chance to condition the soil around the newly planted tree or shrub.

Check the depth of the hole Check the depth of the hole

Now it’s time to get the levels right. Position the shrub or tree in the planting hole and check to see if the surface of the compost in the pot is just below the soil surface. If you are planting a tree or larger shrub lay a tool handle across the planting hole as a guide. A bare root tree should be planted at the same level as it was originally growing in the field; however it is a good idea to position it slightly deeper to allow you to create a saucer-shaped depression in the soil around the plant which will make watering easier and more effective.

Add Vitax Q4 Add Vitax Q4+
Take the plant out of the hole temporarily and mix half the recommended amount of Vitax QA+ into the bottom of the planting hole and the rest with the soil and compost you will use to refill the hole; you will find full instructions and quantities on the packet.
Remove plant from pot and position Remove plant from pot and position

Now reposition the plant in the planting hole. Roses rarely make good rootballs in containers, so you may find some of the soil falls away when you plant. Don’t worry about this, the VitaxQ4+ will help the rose roots to recover quickly.

Backfill around plant completely Backfill around plant completely

Backfill the hole with the compost, soil and VitaQ4+ well mixed together. Firm the soil around the rootball with your heel or toe and water thoroughly. Try not to stamp on the rootball; instead fill in around it with soil and press it inwards. Do keep any newly planted or transplanted plants well watered in any dry spells in their first season. Of course those mycorrhizal fungi you’ve incorporated will help, but they’ll work all the better if the soil is moist.

Firm around plant with heel Firm around plant with heel

You can also use Vitax Q4+ fertiliser with mycorrhizal fungi around established plants. Sprinkle over the soil surface and in gently using a border fork or a hoe. The mycorrhixal fungi will help in boosting beneficial soil bacteria and encouraging root growth near the soil surface. You can also add it to a potting medium when planting up your autumn and winter containers. It is especially beneficial when planting permanent subjects such as shrubs, heucheras, hostas or any other perennials in pots and containers. I recommend you add it to a mixture of soil-less multi-purpose compost and loam based compost. This way you get the best of both worlds.

Perfectly planted, best start Perfectly planted

I should point out that VitaxQ4+ should not be used around or when planting ericaceous, lime-hating plants, but you can use if on anything else.

So don’t forget – autumn is the time to get out there and plant and transplant for best possible results – and don’t forget that VitaxQ4+, it will make all the difference.

Buy VitaxQ4+ here


Andy McIndoe

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