As the weather grows cooler during the fall months, most of the plants outside will begin going dormant. The leaves of deciduous trees begin turning colors and falling. But fall is an excellent time of the year to install new plant material. So many of us like to install these types of plants in the spring when their leaves are bursting out and many go into bloom. Spring planting is alright, but fall is a better time to do so.
The summer months are a bad time for planting due to the intense heat and prolonged dry spells. Newly installed plant material, even if properly watered, is highly stressed and losses can occur.
In the fall months, the air temperatures have cooled and the plants are not stressed as much. The top parts begin going dormant, but the roots will continue to grow in the soil. The cold weather gives the plant more time to become established and develop a strong, healthy root system. By the following spring and summer, the plants are more resistant to heat and drought conditions, as opposed to spring planted trees and shrubs, which have a much shorter period of time to become established, thus making them more vulnerable to the stresses of the summertime.
For trees and shrubs, dig the hole at least one and one-half to twice the size of the root ball, and have it as deep as the crown of the root ball-where the main trunk and roots connect. In fact, if the top of the root ball is slightly above the soil line, no more than one inch, it will in all likelihood settle in to the ground. Do not install the plant below the crown. Planting too deeply can lead to rot and other problems, thus causing damage and possible death to the plant material. Research has shown adding organic matter, such as compost or top soil to the hole is not necessary. The plant roots might grow so intensely in the rich soil preventing their roots from growing out into the harder soil outside the initial planting area. However, if you are planting a bed of multiple shrubs or perennial herbaceous plants, you can add organic matter and till it in throughout the entire plant bed. But do not fill the individual holes with organic matter.
When purchasing plants, make sure they are healthy in appearance and free of insects and diseases. Pull the plant out of the pot and examine the roots. Healthy roots should be white or light brown and spread throughout the root ball. Avoid plants that have black mushy roots, or those with poorly developed root systems. If you purchase plants with roots matted around the edge of the root ball, use a knife and make a few cuts into the roots to break up the mat and allow for the roots to spread.
Water the plants thoroughly with deep waterings once or twice a week. Apply two to three inches of mulch, such as pine straw, pine bark or cypress mulch, around the plant material.
Fall is the optimum time of the year to establish trees, shrubs and many types of perennials. Install these plants now so you may be able to enjoy them for many years to come. If you have any questions on fall plantings, please contact Gwinnett County Extension.
Timothy Daly is the agricultural and natural resources extension agent with Gwinnett County Extension office. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or firstname.lastname@example.org.