Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
October, 2011
Regional Report

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Fall is the best season for planting trees, shrubs and perennials to successfully build a beautiful landscape like this one.

Catch Spring Fever in the Fall

Gardening fever is a common ailment of spring. Something deep within us beckons us outdoors to dig in the soil and plant things. While spring is certainly a wonderful gardening season, veteran gardeners can tell you that there is no season like fall when it comes to planting.

Fall offers several advantages that improve our chance of gardening success and increase the return on our gardening dollars. As summer draws to a close the weather begins to cool gradually. Rainfall is usually plentiful too. New seedlings and transplants thrive in these plant-friendly conditions.

New transplants of trees, shrubs, perennial flowers, and herbs need not brace for the brutal heat of summer before they have a chance to become well established. They have several months of frost-free growing followed by a mild winter in which the soil remains warm enough for roots to keep growing. By the time winter and spring are past and summer blazes onto the scene, they are much better established and ready to thrive than their spring planted counterparts.

You can even save a few bucks here and there by fall planting. You'll end up replacing fewer victims of that first long summer season, which can amount to quite a savings. You can also choose plants that are a pot size smaller in many cases, and by the end of the first season there will be little, if any, difference in size between them and their larger spring planted counterparts.

Not all plants perform equally well in your particular soil and climate zone of the Lower South. It makes sense to choose things not prone to insects and disease problems. There are many native and well-adapted plants that can thrive in your area without the need for spraying and pampering just to keep them alive.

Contact your local County Extension Office for a list of adapted plants, and visit a local botanical garden for ideas and advice. In addition to selecting plants that are adapted to your area it's important to plant them properly. There is an old adage that says, "Don't put a five dollar plant into a five cent hole." Prepare the soil before you plant and you will help ensure a successful end result.

Most plants will benefit from additions of organic matter to the soil. Don't just place compost in the planting hole. In a clay soil the planting hole can become an "underground bathtub" during rainy seasons, holding water and drowning roots. Another problem with a planting hole full of compost or potting soil is that if the surrounding soil is hard or heavy clay, the plant's roots tend not to venture out from the rich compost into the surrounding soil.

It's much better to mix a few inches of compost into the soil throughout the planting area prior to planting. Then dig the hole and plant. Set the plant at the same level it was growing in the container or just slightly higher. Planting too deep can be stressful to many plants, including most woody ornamentals.

It is usually not a good idea to add fertilizer to planting hole. Fertilizer can burn the tender new roots of a plant unless it is a slow release product specifically designed for that purpose. After plants began to grow in the spring you can begin to provide light applications of fertilizer.

After planting, water the plant in well to moisten and settle the soil in around the roots. Apply at 2 inch layer of mulch around the newly established transplants to help deter weeds and protect the roots from drying out.

So take advantage of the best planting season of the year. Make a wise investment in your landscape that will bring beauty for the fall and winter season or even for years to come.

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