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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - May 01, 2014

From: Lago Vista, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Seasonal Tasks, Trees
Title: Late planting plum tree from Lago Vista, TX
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have two plum trees in plastic containers that I purchased in March. For a lot of reasons, we didn't get them planted. I have kept them alive by watering consistently, but I am now wondering what to do with them. Is it ok to plant them in May? Should I transfer them to larger plastic pots and try to keep them alive during the summer and plant them next fall?

ANSWER:

First, please read this Previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer  concerning the fact that we may not have the plant you bought as a 'plum tree" in our Native Plant Database.

Since we do not know which species of plum tree you are referring to, we will go for a species of the Prunus (plum) genus native to Travis County to use as an example, since the rules for planting woody plants in Texas are pretty much the same across the board. The two plum trees with the name "plum" that are native to Travis County are Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) and Prunus rivularis (Creek plum). You can follow those two links to our webpage on that plant to find the spot in your garden that comes the closest to matching the growing conditions of the tree (sun? soil moisture? soil?) before you ever get the shovel out of the garage.

Now, the difference between planting that tree now or waiting until the optimum time to plant a woody plant (trees and shrubs), which is December and January, is which way will there be least damage? March, when you bought that tree, was already late in the planting season. It may have stood on the nursery floor since September in that same black plastic pot. It may have roots growing round and round inside the pot, and be rootbound. Leaving it in that black plastic pot, especially in the hot Texas sun, can basically cook the roots.

Obviously, our advice is get it out of that pot and into the ground NOW. The best time for this is late in the day, nearly dark, so that in the first few hours the baby roots are trying to adjust to their new environment they are not also roasting in the sun. Read our Step-by-Step article on How to Plant a Tree. We always like to mix a little good quality compost into the extra dirt that we dig out of the hole, and return the mix to the hole around the roots of the tree. This will help with drainage and also help to make micro-nutrients in the soil available to the little new roots.

Water the tree by sticking a hose down into the soft dirt around the tree and letting it barely dribble until the surface is moist. Do this at least twice a week, unless there is some good soaking rain, for the first several weeks and then once a week until Fall.

And next time you want a tree, buy it in late Fall and plant it THEN.

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Mexican plum
Prunus mexicana

Mexican plum
Prunus mexicana

River plum
Prunus rivularis

River plum
Prunus rivularis

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