Fall landscape planting has advantages

Lane Dunn recommends planning before you plant

We’ve had some days where high temperatures did not reach 90. We have also received some much needed rain that put a smile on many peoples face. I can’t wait for fall to get here.

And as we’ll talk about for the home landscaper, I want to emphasize the point that fall is a great time to get big items planted.

As weather should be getting slightly cooler, gardeners will be enticed back outdoors. Let me argue that fall is a perfect time to add a new tree or a grouping of shrubs to the landscape. Perhaps you have an area in the landscape that needs 'remodeling' or rejuvenating. The fall should be the best season to plant, even better than spring.

 It’s true that most folks prefer January through March for planting. We greatly anticipate the warming weather after our winter. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the larger nurseries and their ad campaigns will do their best to sell flowers in the fall.

But the fall months of September through December have distinct advantages over any other time of the year. Fall planting follows the heat of summer, before a cool winter season, and trees and shrubs planted in the fall use this to good advantage.

Plant roots grow anytime the soil temperature is 40 degrees or higher, which may occur all winter for us. During the winter months, the root systems of the fall-planted specimens develop and become established. When spring arrives, this expanded root system can support and take advantage of the full surge of spring growth.

For winter settling-in and root development, fall is the ideal time to plant potted trees and shrubs. These plants have ample time to recover from transplanting and proliferate roots before spring growth begins.

'Plan before you plant' is always a good rule of thumb. Whether you are planting a single plant or an entire landscape, plan first, then plant. Good planning is a worthwhile investment of time that will pay off in greater enjoyment of attractive and useful home grounds, and in increasing the value of your home. It's much easier to move plants on paper then to dig them after planting in the wrong place. A plan saves many planting mistakes.

Every plant in the landscape should serve a purpose. Ask yourself if you want a plant for screening, for privacy, or for shade. Remember to consider how large will it be five years from now? Plants, like people, grow up. Remember, that a small one-gallon-size plant will look entirely different after a few years of growth in your landscape.

All plants have growing requirements. Think about the plant's needs before you invest. Is it adapted to your area's soil? Will it grow in sun or shade? Does it need a wet or dry location? Is it cold hardy? Most nurseries have this type of information on tags beside the plant.

Do not fertilize your tree or shrub after planting. Wait until early in the spring to do this, and even then, go lightly. Heavy applications of fertilizer may burn and injure the root system and could possibly kill the plant.

Watering has been and remains paramount in transplanting. At the time of transplanting, soak the root ball and surrounding soil. A thorough watering every 7 to 10 days dramatically increases the success ratio. More frequent watering may encourage root rot. Remember more trees and shrubs fail from over watering then from under watering.

After planting and before you put up the tools, add 4 to 6 inches of mulch around the base of newly planted trees and shrubs. This helps to keep down weeds and conserve soil moisture.

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Lane Dunn is the County Extension Agent for agriculture and natural resources for Shelby County. His email address is jldunn@ag.tamu.edu