If you’ve been thinking about adding some trees to your landscape, now is the perfect time to do it. Fall is a great time to plant trees because the days are still relatively long and warm, and they can focus their energy on putting out strong roots into the warm soil instead of producing new leaves. The slowly cooling fall weather will be less stressful for them than the possibility of late freezes or early extreme heat in the spring.
You can plant almost any tree in the fall in Iowa, but if you’re unsure where to start, here’s a list that does well in the Des Moines area.
The Best Trees to Plant In Iowa
Maples are excellent shade trees for Iowa. There are plenty of different varieties available, ranging from urban-size to giant; there’s a maple for almost every yard. Fall colors on maples run the gamut from red to yellow and every shade of orange in between. ‘Autumn Blaze’ maple is always a popular choice among Iowa’s landscapers.
Birches are fantastic for damp locations—especially River birch. If your property has a natural creek, pond, or swampy area, then birches are a great choice. These trees produce golden-yellow leaves in the fall; they can have a singular stem or multi-stemmed branching pattern to suit all aesthetics.
Oak trees are beautiful and have so much character, they’re an elegant addition to the landscape, and they can live for more than 100 years. Oak leaves turn rich golden tones in the fall, from copper to gold to bright red. A local favorite due to its resilience and medium size, is the Swamp white oak.
Black Spruce is tough as nails evergreen that can grow almost anywhere. It does well in poor soil and can tolerate more moisture than other evergreens. It has dark blue-green needles that add extra appeal to the fall and winter landscape.
Norway Spruce is one of the fastest-growing evergreens. They’re an excellent option for windbreaks and privacy! The slightly weeping nature of the limbs as this tree matures is almost poetic, adding a grandiose aesthetic to your yard.
Emerald Green Arborvitae is a gorgeous rich green, drought-tolerant (once established) evergreen. It is an excellent candidate for privacy hedging or creating a topiary.
How to Help Young Trees Get Established
We’ve previously talked about best practices for planting trees, so check that out, but besides “water religiously,” there’s more information about after-planting care for your new trees, so we’ve got some tips to help you through the first couple of years.
Water Deeply & Frequently
You’ll need to keep up with watering your tree very thoroughly for the first 1-2 years. Watering frequency is:
- First month, water deeply twice a week. Usually a hose on a slow trickle for 20-30 minutes is good.
- Weeks four until the ground freezes, water every other week, tapering down to once a month as the weather cools. We also suggest a good, deep watering right before frost.
- In the spring and summer, water once per week as the weather warms up and the soil dries out, and continue every other week, tapering off through to the fall.
But, how much should you be watering? And where should you water?
If your tree is relatively small, you’ll want to concentrate on watering the immediate root ball area of your planting hole. As your tree establishes itself, the root area will expand significantly, so you’ll need to broaden your watering area. A soaker hose makes this easy since you can coil it out from near the trunk to as wide as required. Once your tree is established, the root zone will be vast, so you should expand your watering zone as it matures.
How much water depends on the size of your tree as well. The University of Minnesota has an excellent chart to help you determine how much to water your tree based on the trunk’s diameter. The chart also gives you a guideline for how long it will take your new tree to establish, which is how long you’ll need to water it consistently. If the trunk diameter is 1-2 inches, you’ll need to give it 1.5-3 gallons of water at every watering. If the diameter is 3-4 inches, it’ll need 3-6 gallons of water.
A mulch layer, 2-3 inches deep over the root zone, protects your new tree from overheating, drying out too fast, and the damaging effects of freeze and thaw cycles in the spring. Just make sure you don’t make a volcano of mulch around the trunk; it’s best to leave an inch of space between the main trunk and the mulch to avoid rot.
Remove the staking kit after 1-2 years.
If you staked your tree when you planted it, don’t forget to remove the staking after 1-2 years. Once it is established, it no longer needs those supports, and they can potentially cause damage as the tree grows taller.
Stop by the garden center and check out the extensive collection of gorgeous trees available; there’s bound to be the perfect one for your yard.