Your Fall Tree Planting Guide

By October 9, 2019 October 30th, 2019 Gardening Inspiration and Advice
royal city nursery guelph fall tree planting guide autumn tree

No landscape is complete without trees. When I think about mature neighbourhoods, the changing seasons, and the most breathtaking Canadian landscapes, the trees are the first things that come to mind. Not to mention, the smell of freshly fallen leaves in autumn just so happens to be one of my all-time favourite smells—second only to soil in spring.

Even though a tree can completely change the character of a landscape, they tend to get overlooked by a lot of folks as they browse through the flower aisles of our garden centre. (Perhaps it has something to do with how we tend to zero in on things at eye-level, like how I always seem to miss the stuff on the top shelf at the grocery store.) Did you know that there’s actually a naturally calming effect of having something overhead? With the whole sky above you, it’s easy to feel quite small, but with a shelter of tree canopy, it soothes and grounds you. 

This fall, I challenge you to consider planting a tree in your yard. While the streets of Guelph are blessed with many mature shade trees, it’s the strikingly beautiful ornamentals that give our neighbourhoods personality. Furthermore, as luck would have it, October is a perfect month for tree planting!

Why Plant Trees in the Fall?

Trees, not unlike Great Danes, are gentle giants. Despite their size, they can be sensitive. Here in Guelph, we experience four distinct seasons—including hot summers and bone-chilling winters. Extreme temperatures, like we see in summer and winter, are not ideal times to transplant trees, though with the right care, it can still be done. However, if you plant a tree in the fall, the tree has a few months of warm-ish soil to set down roots before it slips into dormancy.

When spring arrives, the new tree gently awakens and the warming temperatures stimulate new growth. At this point, the tree has had three full seasons to settle in, recover, and prepare itself to withstand the hot weather.

Before Planting

Trees should be transplanted as quickly as possible once you bring them home, so prepare the area as much as possible beforehand. Trees are a long-term decision, so make sure you’ve versed yourself in the requirements of your desired species before planting them into your yard.

Before you let yourself fall in love with a particular species, get to know the conditions in the spot where you plan to plant. If you’re looking to fill a space that sits in the shade most of the day, you’ll need to choose a tree that can survive in low light. Consider how much moisture the area retains, whether the soil currently drains quickly or tends to let rain pool up. Write all this information down! 

I would also suggest testing the soil acidity with a home soil testing kit and even bringing a little sandwich bag to the garden centre with a handful of soil in it. All this information can help us understand the nature of your tree’s new home, which enables us to narrow down your selection to the trees that will do best in your yard.

Before you bring your tree home or immediately afterward, dig a hole approximately equal to the depth of the root ball and twice the diameter. Backfill with a soil mixture enriched with peat moss that is about 75% triple mix and 25% compost. Blend it into the soil mixture per the package directions before planting.

Tree Planting Tips

Make sure to well the planting site very well immediately after planting your tree, and check it for water every few days. Typically, new plantings need to be watered every 5 to 7 days with a deep drink (more water, but less often) to encourage better root production. During the fall, water your tree when the soil is dry at finger depth (about 4” underground). Plan on watering until the ground is fully frozen.

To help regulate the soil moisture levels, I can’t recommend mulching your new trees enough. Use a mulch formula appropriate for the Guelph area (some mulches are a bit too attractive for termites) and layer it on about 2-3” deep, surrounding the tree trunk and covering the entire planting site. Mulch slows water from evaporating out of the soil, insulates the roots, and quite frankly, it looks pretty.


It only takes about a day’s worth of work to plant a tree that will last decades on your property. During its lifetime, your new addition will create thousands of pounds of oxygen, improve the value of your home, and even change the face of your community. Why not break out the shovel and start making history?