Fall Planting

Mary Ann Ryan
Adams County Master Gardner

August: hot, dry, humid, hazy, lazy, sweaty, sticky, yucky. Many of us stay indoors as much as we can - out of the hot weather - with windows wide open, waiting to catch a breeze, not turning on the oven so additional heat isn't generated, or just enjoying the air conditioning, if you are lucky to have it - just to avoid the heat, the hot, the humid, the yucky days. But a true gardener is always thinking, if not doing, something about the garden or in the garden, even on these dog days of summer. Believe it or not, once September hits, history tells us that the weather will indeed cool down. We will want to be in the garden for longer stretches of time.

Pulling those weeds we avoided during August is just one of the chores we need to tend to during the fall months. September has proven to be a great month for transplanting, dividing, and planting. Now, while your forced to stay inside, is the time to start thinking about fall planting. Maybe there is a new bed you would like to create, or an area that needs to be re-done. Trees, shrubs, perennials and bulbs do very well when planted during the time period of early September -late October.

If your in the planning mode, try measuring the area that you will be working and commit it to paper. This will allow you to see the space you are planting and work through the design of the garden. When you do this, it also allows you to learn about the plants, see on paper the potential size of the plants, and therefore determine the right plants for the location.

Visit nurseries and garden centers and check out what is available. August is the perfect time to learn about plants with outstanding fall colors. Many trees, like sweetgum, sourwood, red maples and serviceberry offer wonderful color in the fall. Shrubs, like oakleaf hydrangea and fothergilla are also beautiful during the fall months. Many shrubs offer beautiful berries, like red chokeberry, inkberry holly and callicarpa. Also look at perennials like Amber Waves heuchera and leadwort. This list is just a "tease" since there are so many good fall plants available.

Why plant in September and October? Warm soils in the fall will encourage root growth of plants and typical rainfall in our area reduces the amount of watering that gardeners need to apply - and - the weather is so much cooler to work in the garden. Because of better root development in the fall, when spring arrives, the plants have a much better start as compared to plants planted in the spring. Then when the hot dry weather of summer hit, the fall planted plant will be well established and therefore, can withstand the tough summer environment. When planting perennials in the fall, earlier is better. Don't wait till late October, the plants will not have enough time to take root into the soil, and hence, they will heave out of the ground, because of our freezing and thawing periods that are typical during our winters. Shrubs and trees are not as likely to heave.

Container grown plants as well as balled and burlapped plants do well planted during the fall season. If planting a container grown plant, be sure you break up the root system before placing it in the hole. This will encourage the roots to grow into the existing soil. A balled and burlapped plant can be planted well into the late fall until the ground freezes. These plants move best when they are going dormant, because the roots are disturbed when digging. Just be sure to roll back the burlap from the top of the ball, and cut all string from the ball, especially around the trunk.

Whether planting a container or balled and burlapped plant, be sure you don't plant it too deep, the top of the soil ball should be level with the existing grade. Be sure to water the plant well after planting.

This is an exciting time of year. There is so much color from leaves and berries that you can really appreciate living in this area, where there are four seasons, each treating us with beautiful color of different kinds. Enjoy your garden, whether old or new, and always continue to learn about nature's wonders!

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