For me, the slow transition to cooler fall temperatures elicits many fond memories — fall festivals and fairs, vibrant colors and camp fires. While mowing the lawn will also slow to a halt, there are still a few important garden chores to remember as we move toward autumn.
One important chore that is often forgotten is fall planting. Autumn is the ideal time to plant trees and woody shrubs.
Fall planting is preferred because plants need a period of moisture and mild temperatures for good root establishment. A healthy root system better prepares plants for the hot, dry summers that lie ahead. Plants installed in the fall have all winter to get established while those planted in the spring have harsh summer weather just around the corner.
Select plants adapted to this area
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Plants adapted to our Middle Georgia climate will have a much better shot at long-term survival. Research the plants you are interested in before you go shopping. Keep in mind that most of us in Middle Georgia are in USDA hardiness zone 8A, which is used to determine which plants will do best here.
This rating is based on the average minimum winter temperatures. There are a number of native plants with interesting attributes that might be a good fit for your landscape. University of Georgia horticulturists have developed a “Landscape Plants in Georgia” publication that might be useful to look through prior to buying. Serach for it at caes.uga.edu/publications. This publication provides site requirements as well as size of mature plants.
Proper soil preparation is key
Consider soil testing (contact your local Extension office for more details) prior to bed preparation. This will provide information on pH and lime requirements as the planting area is prepared.
If possible, till the soil to a depth of 12 inches over a wide area. Dig a large planting bed instead of just a single planting hole. This will allow roots to easily expand.
If the soil is less than ideal, as is generally the case — mostly sandy or clay and compacted — add several inches of organic matter and till into the bed. Avoid adding organic matter to a single planting hole. This can actually encourage the roots to stay in the hole with nutrient rich, loosened soil instead of spreading into the surrounding areas.
If poor drainage is an issue, consider raising the bed by adding 6 to 12 inches of soil and organic matter. This will improve root growth and prevent disease. Care must be taken when watering raised beds because they will dry out quicker than other areas.
Plant at the correct depth
Always prepare the soil prior to removing the plant from the container or wrapping. Regardless of whether you are planting into a hole or a larger bed area, the plant should be placed at the same depth that it has been growing in the container. Planting trees and shrubs too deep will lead to long-term problems and irreversible damage.
If you buy a plant that has matted roots around the edge of the container, cut the roots in three or four places around the pot before planting.
For balled and burlap plants, cut any wire or cord from around the trunk and pull the burlap from the top third of the root ball. If planting on poorly drained sites, remove the burlap completely.
Don’t leave the job unfinished
Gently firm the soil around the plants using your hands. Water as you backfill to settle soil around roots. Water well when you finish and again several hours later. Apply several inches of mulch around the plants.
During establishment, the roots should be kept moist. This might mean a watering a few times per week for the first few months. This will vary depending on rain, soil content and site.
Visit the Master Gardener plant sale
The Master Gardener fall plant sale is a great place to see new and interesting plant introductions as well as standard favorites. The plant sale is open from noon until 5 p.m. today, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday and 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at the State Farmers Market on Eisenhower Parkway. Master Gardeners and Extension staff will be on hand to answer questions. Admission and parking is free.
Twiggs County Extension’s Farm & Family Day: Oct. 1. Farm tours from 8 a.m.-noon (registration required); Farm & Family Day Fest from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Twiggs County Extension Office, 31 N. Magnolia St., Jeffersonville. Contact Brandon Crumsey at 478-945-3391 for more information.
ServSafe Manager Training: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Oct. 19-20, Macon-Bibb County Health Department, 171 Emery Highway. The Servsafe certification exam will be administered. The cost is $140 and includes the 6th Edition ServSafe Manager book. For more information, e-mail email@example.com or call 478-751-6338.
Contact county Extension agent Karol Kelly at firstname.lastname@example.org.