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Check growing conditions before picking plants

Fall is coming, and it is one of the best times of the year to plant trees and shrubs. During the colder weather, the above-ground parts of the plants are not growing much, but the roots continue to grow and help the plant to become established. It will better handle the intense heat and dry conditions of the following summer.

When deciding what types of plant material to install in the home landscape, the most important consideration is choosing plants that are adapted to the growing conditions of the site where you want to grow them.

Sunlight requirements differ among plants. Junipers thrive in full sun. If they are planted in shady areas, they will begin to thin out, turn brown and die. Azaleas and dogwoods need more shade because they are understory plants in the forests. If planted out in the open sun without any cover, the leaves will begin to turn yellow and the plant will suffer from heat-related problems, like leaf scorch and branch dieback, even if the plant receives adequate water. The same is true for other plants that require shade or partial shade like aucubas and gardenias.

Water requirements also play an important role in determining what to plant. Most plant material, once established, needs very little supplemental water. Indian hawthorns, Japanese hollies, barberries and junipers do well in dry conditions. But if the soil has poor drainage, the plants will grow poorly and may develop root rot fungal disease.

Other plants suffer in dry conditions - like the big leaf hydrangeas that begin to wilt if the soil dries out - and prolonged dry spells without supplemental water can potentially harm them. Some plants are better adapted to wet areas such as river birches, Carolina silverbells, swamp hibiscus and yaupon hollies.

When choosing plants, make sure what you are planting will not outgrow the site. Some trees may look great when small or a moderate size, but will eventually grow quite large, like many species of oaks and maples. Often times these trees are pruned excessively, a process known as "topping," which is detrimental to the tree. This is often true of trees that are planted under power lines when smaller species of trees should be in their place.

Some plants have the ability to spread extensively and can be invasive, such as English ivy. If you plant English ivy, be prepared to continually cut it back or it will take over everything. This is also true with some other plant material like the groundcovers vinca and the chameleon plant.

One other important factor to consider is whether the plant has excessive pest problems. Certain species of euonymus are troubled by scale insects and powdery mildew disease, red tip photinias have a leaf spot disease, and cotoneasters have trouble with lacebugs that ruin their appearance. These plants will decline and eventually die unless pesticides are constantly applied. Choose plants that do not have these types of extensive pest problems.

When deciding what to plant in your landscape, take these factors into consideration so you do not end up with trouble later on. A healthy, attractive landscape with plants adapted to their environments will require minimal maintenance and be less problematic. For any questions about choosing the right type of plants, please contact the Gwinnett County Extension office.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu