Plant Native Trees and Shrubs in the Late Fall

Although we often think of planting wildflowers and other herbaceous plants for pollinators, trees and shrubs can be extremely beneficial for pollinators. If those trees and shrubs are native, then they tend to support a wider variety of pollinators than their non-native counterparts, and they provide this support to the adult pollinators as well as their young.

Shrubby St. John’s wort is a native shrub that provides lots of pollen for bees during the middle of summer. Fall is a great time to plant shrubby St. John’s wort, as well as, other shrubs and trees. Photo credit: John Ruter,, cc-by-nc 3.0

Trees and shrubs are so important because they produce a large number of flowers and leaves in a relatively small space compared to the space it would take wildflowers and other forbs to produce an equal amount of flowers and leaves. Pollinators are therefore able to visit more flowers and caterpillars have access to more leaves without having to expend extra energy moving from one plant to the next. I often refer to trees and shrubs as nature’s skyscrapers because their height allows them to pack so much habitat into such a small horizontal space.

If you are thinking about planting trees or shrubs, late fall is the best time to do so. After the trees and shrubs go dormant in the fall, they are no longer using energy to send sugars and water to their leaves. However, the roots continue to grow even though the plant is dormant and the plant can invest a higher percentage of its energy to the roots because there are no leaves to support.

Another reason to plant trees and shrubs in the fall is because roots grow best in cool temperatures. It takes much longer for the ground to warm up and cool down compared to the air temperature. Even after the first frosts have killed off most of the vegetation for the year, the soil will remain relatively warm for several more weeks. This allows the roots of fall-planted trees and shrubs to establish themselves in the fall and early winter. In the spring, when the plants come out of dormancy, their root systems are ready to go and can put more energy into growing the visible parts of the plants. This eliminates the stress that a spring-planted tree or shrub experiences when trying to establish roots at the same time as it is trying to support new growth and leaves.

This article was part of Shannon’s original Kentucky Pollinators and Backyard Wildlife blog which evolved into the blog for Backyard Ecology.

Backyard Ecology: Exploring Nature in Your Backyard
Nature isn’t just “out there.” It’s all around us, including right outside our doors. Hi, my name is Shannon Trimboli, and I am the host of Backyard Ecology. I live in southcentral Kentucky and am a wildlife biologist, educator, author, beekeeper, and owner of a nursery specializing in plants for pollinators and wildlife conservation. I invite you to join me as we ignite our curiosity and natural wonder, explore our yards and communities, and improve our local pollinator and wildlife habitat. Learn more or subscribe to my email list at

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.