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— If you are planning to add fruit or nut trees or small fruits (blueberries, blackberries or muscadines) to your garden, time is rapidly running out, says Dr. Obadiah Njue, Extension horticulture specialist with the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff Cooperative Extension Program.

The ideal time to put these plants in the ground is in the fall after the danger of any long, warm spell has passed, says Dr. Njue. Warm spells trigger the dormant plants to burst into growth ahead of winter, making the young plants vulnerable to cold damage.

Trees and shrubs planted in the fall get a head start because they can take advantage of the soil temperature which remains warm until the ground freezes. This offers an early establishment of the root system.

Those planted in the fall are not held back by limited moisture and nutrients because the roots are established early, which allows the plants to grow faster, says Dr. Njue. Also, the plants have a chance to get over the shock of transplanting before spring, and they require less watering.

The demand for fruit trees, nut trees and small fruits is increasing, says Dr. Njue. Ordering now, rather than in the spring, increases your chances of getting the trees and plants of your choice.

Fruit trees and shrubs purchased from a mail-order nursery are usually shipped bare root. If you buy trees and shrubs locally, you sometimes can choose between bare-root or potted ones. Although a potted tree may look more appealing to the buyer, Dr. Njue says potted is not superior to a bare-root tree whose roots have been kept moist.

Once you get your tree, Dr. Njue has these tips for you:

• Make sure the roots stay moist, both before and after planting. Soak the roots in water for at least 30 minutes before planting. This increases the survival rate of the tree.

• If the tree is grafted or budded, be sure the bud union is 2 inches above ground level when planted. A general rule is to cover the plant with soil at the same level it was covered while in the nursery or pot.

• Apply winter mulch to prevent freezing and thawing cycles, which cause the plant to heave and can kill the plant. Winter mulch should be a loose material, such as straw, which allows for air filtration.

Trees and shrubs planted in the fall should receive the same care as those planted in the spring, says Dr. Njue. Provide plenty of room in the planting hole for the roots. Water the new tree or shrub thoroughly and prune properly. Although pruning can wait until early spring, doing it at planting ensures that it gets done.

Above all, says Dr. Njue, select only those plants adapted for your area, and consult your county Extension agent or associate for specific information and cultural practices for your tree or shrub.

News, Pages 10 on 12/09/2009

Print Headline: Time to order, plant fruit and nut trees running out

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