The torrid days of summer are behind us and fall is finally here. With the arrival of colder nights and milder days comes the urge for us to get back outside and work in our yards and beds. As I stated in last month’s article, now is the time to get your fall bedding plants in before the holidays. Most bedding plants sold here in the fall will tolerate our normally mild winters without any significant damage from the cold.
Besides fall bedding plants and cool season vegetables, November through February is by far the best time to plant most shrubs and trees. The exception would be tropical or so called semi tropical plants like tropical hibiscus, ixora and even most citrus. Even though some of these plants have shown to withstand mild winter temperatures, this will only occur only after they have “hardened off”. Newly purchased tropical or semi-tropical plants from the nursery, even if they are more than a year old have been protected in a greenhouse during the previous winter.
People that come from northern areas are trained to wait until spring when the soil thaws before planting. This is because newly planted shrubs and trees can have their roots damaged by freezing temperatures in the root zone before the plants get rooted out. Obviously down here we don’t have that concern. In our area the biggest concern is heat and drought stress rather than frozen roots. Simply speaking, plant roots grow above 40 degrees. During the winter, trees and shrubs will stop putting on new top growth and focus their energy on repairing damaged roots and expanding the existing root system. In other words, the earlier you plant in the fall the better prepared your new plants will be for the full surge of new growth in the spring and the stresses of the following summer.
This time of year you will see plants on sale at some of the bigger garden centers with discounts up to 70% off all plants. Beware of 2 things, the first being that the prices may have been jacked up to make room for the large discount meaning you got only a small or no discount at all. The second is that you may be buying heavily stressed plants that have gone through the summer with improper care.
If you are replacing a dead shrub or tree make sure you are not perpetuating a problem. The previous plants died for a reason. The past few years we have seen a large number of plants that have died from root rot. This has been primarily caused by our heavy clay soils that have very poor drainage combined with back to back years of excessive rainfall. Make sure you understand the reason the old plants died before putting new ones right back in the same hole. Besides improper drainage and too much rain the problem could have simply been poor plant selection.
When planting multiple trees or shrubs start with a plan. Make sure you have good knowledge of the growth habits for the plants you have selected. It is much easier to use an eraser than a shovel to move a plant if you put it in the wrong place. You don’t want to place a tree or shrub in an area where it will quickly outgrow the space it is installed in. At the Growers Outlet we see that problem way too often.
Plant properly for success. Here are a few guidelines to help you get off on the right foot:
• For trees and shrubs in 15 gallon pots and larger, dig a hole large enough in diameter so that the root system has at least six inches of clearance on all sides. For 3 and 5-gallon shrubs, 3 inches would be fine. The root ball should rest on a solid soil foundation, so don’t dig the hole much deeper than the ball.
• Plant the tree or shrub slightly above the level of the surrounding soil, to allow for settling and increased soil drainage.
• Carefully place the tree or shrub in the hole. Handle the plant by the root ball, not by the trunk. A broken ball of earth can mean a dead plant. It should go without saying that you should always remove any container before you plant.
• Backfill the hole, using mostly the soil that came out of the hole. Adding an amendment such as compost at a ratio of not more than 5 to 1 soil to compost would be ok. Fill the hole, and firm the soil around the plant. Water thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots and to eliminate any air pockets.
• 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. The use of Microlife 6-2-4 organic fertilizer in the planting hole has been shown to work fine as well as the use of root stimulators.
• 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 than from under watering.
• Before calling it a day, 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. Use bark mulch, compost, grass clippings, or leaves.
Things to do in November
*Plant cool season annuals such as pansies, violas, alyssum, snapdragons, dianthus and ornamental cabbages.
*If you did not fertilize your lawn in October DO IT NOW! with Nitro Phos Fall Special or if you want to go organic, use Microlife 6-2-4. DO NOT USE FERTILIZERS WITH A HIGH NITROGEN CONTENT! That is the 1st number in the analysis.
*Think about changing the schedule on your irrigation system. Water demands on grass and plants will go down with shorter cooler days and nights. Less water will save money and lessen disease problems.
*Keep abreast of changing weather. We can have very cold weather as soon as the second week of November. Be prepared with freeze cloth to protect tender plants.
*Remember, if you have been putting off any major landscape projects, now is the time to start them. Trees, shrubs and perennials do much better the following summer when planted in the fall.
For great gardening products and information, come by the Growers Outlet and visit with any member of our team to get the help you need or go to our website at www.growersoutletinwillis.com. We have the products and knowledge to help you have the prettiest yard on the block.