Some farewell advice on gardening

August 28, 2013 

I have been writing this column since September 1995. For almost 18 years, I got to write these columns because I was the University of Georgia Extension Agent in Houston County until I retired in 2009. The Extension office has hired a new Extension Agent, Charlotte Mote. She will begin writing this column in September as part of her regular duties.

It will be great to have a person with a new perspective writing these columns. I am afraid that sometimes I have written about the same topics over and over.

On the other hand, I do this because we tend to see the same problems repeatedly. For my last column in this series, I would like to give a sort of final word on gardening -- some general principles to help gardeners.

You need to understand how the changing seasons affect plant growth. Plants can detect soil and air temperatures, moisture levels, day length and light intensity. The plant reacts based on the seasonal weather it experiences.

For instance, plants already know that we are approaching fall and winter and have begun preparations for cooler weather. Spring flowering plants are forming flower buds. Some trees already have a few colorful leaves -- another preparation for fall.

This means these are some good tasks to do or to avoid in late summer. We should only lightly prune spring flowering plants now -- removing individual branches. Do not shear them, or they may not flower next spring. Finish pruning and fertilizing other woody plants by Sept. 15.

In the lawn, this is a good time to apply a post-emergence weed control to kill existing weeds. This will help to prevent them from going to seed. Plan to apply fall weed preventatives in September. Stop fertilizing lawns by Sept. 15.

Fall is a great time to reduce the number of insect pests you will see next spring. Watch for insects like fire ants, lace bugs and scales and treat them now. Reduce the number of adult insects that will “over-winter” to become a problem next year.

If you have had disease problems in the lawn this year, a fungicide application in September and again in October can prepare the lawn for a healthy start next spring. Contact the local extension office for help in identifying lawn diseases.

Winter is the best time to plant woody plants (shrubs and trees) and perennials. I cannot overemphasize this. Our cooler, wetter weather in the winter gives plants time to establish themselves before they have to deal with our hot, dry summers.

Plant cool-season flowers from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15. Cool-season flowers are those that grow best in the winter -- pansies, dianthus, snapdragons and flowering kale and cabbage.

Begin pruning woody plants again after Jan. 1. Wait to prune spring flowering plants until after they bloom.

In the spring, plants are beginning to awake and need special care. We tend to fertilize too soon. Plants seldom die from too little fertilizer, but it is easy to damage them with too much or too early fertilization. Fertilize shrubs and trees after all danger of frost is past -- usually about April 8. For lawns, wait until they fully green up to fertilize -- about late April or early May. Remember to water regularly during green-up if it gets dry.

Watch for pest emergence in the spring, and control them early while insects are small, few in number and easy to kill. Also, get to know your beneficial insects. Most insects are harmless or helpful -- not harmful. Do not make the mistake of spraying every time you see an insect.

In summer, maintain the garden and watch for pests. Maintain good plant health if you want a good spring green-up next year. This usually means regular watering in dry weather ( 1/2 to 3/4 inch twice a week for lawns, vegetables and flowers and 1 inch once a week for established woody plants) and careful fertilization and pest control. Do not water more often than this.

Thank you for the opportunity to share with you over the years. I am excited about the prospect of Charlotte becoming the author of these columns. Remember to contact your local extension office if you have questions. God bless you.

Willie Chance works with the University of Georgia Center for Urban Agriculture and helps to train the turf and landscape industry.

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