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DALY: Autumn is the optimal time for planting

Fall is the ideal time of the year to install new plant material. The air temperatures have cooled and environmental conditions are not as stressful on the plants. Even though the above ground plant parts will go dormant during the cold weather, the roots will continue to grow since they are insulated from the cold by the soil. This allows the plants time to become established and develop a strong, healthy root system. Plants are then more resistant to the hot dry conditions the following summer.

The key to buying healthy plants is to carefully examine all parts of the plant prior to purchase. The overall majority of plants in the nursery should be healthy, well watered, and free of pest problems. Remove the plant from 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 observe masses of roots packed into the rootball, or if the roots are growing out of the bottom, the roots have become pot bound and the plant should not be purchased.

Dig the hole two to three times the size of the width of the root ball. Plant it as deep as the crown of the root ball, which is the point where the main trunk and roots connect. Planting any deeper can lead to root rot and other problems. Research has shown adding organic matter, such as compost, peat moss, or top soil to the hole is not necessary. Just backfill with the same soil removed from the hole. However, if you are planting a bed of multiple shrubs or perennial herbaceous plants, you can add organic matter to the soil and thoroughly till it in throughout the entire planting area.

Do not apply fertilizer to the individual planting holes. Wait until the plants become established before fertilizing. Water the plants thoroughly with deep waterings once or twice a week keeping the soil moist but not waterlogged. Apply two to three inches of organic mulch material, such as pine straw pine bark or cypress mulch around the plants.

Fall is the optimum time of the year to plant trees, shrubs and many types of perennials. The cooler weather conditions allow for the plant to become better established in the landscape since they are under less stress. Proper installation of the plant material will help you enjoy the plants for many years to come.

Timothy Daly is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or tdaly@uga.edu.