A lot of us got cheated out of our landscaping improvements back in the spring, and a few of us even decided we might just wait until next year. But the arrival of fall and its cooler temperatures gives gardeners another chance to make a fresh start.
The new season is the best time for planting new trees and shrubs, and local nurseries are ready to offer some help.
Back in the ’70s, there was a campaign of the old American Association of Nurserymen called “Fall is for Planting.” It made for a great bumper sticker, but, like white poinsettias for Easter, it never really caught on and you seldom heard it spilling from people’s lips.
That old saying is absolutely accurate, however, and late September and October are perfect for scheduling new landscape-changing chores in North Texas. Sure, you’ll have to exclude plants that you know are likely to be hurt by the cold — think oleanders, gardenias, pittosporums and figs. (Delay buying those tender plants until spring so they can become well-established before their bigger nemesis: winter.)
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Beyond that, the other 95 percent of our landscaping trees, shrubs, vines and ground covers will do outstandingly well if they’re planted over the next several weeks. So, get ready, get set and grow!
Still not convinced about this “fall” thing? Let me outline the facts that make a strong case for autumn plantings.
Plants in nurseries now are probably larger than the same plants will be next spring. For a simple example, 1-gallon plants now, in the fall, will probably be repotted into 3-gallon pots for spring sales. Most are big for their 1-gallon pots but will be of average size when placed in 3-gallon pots in the spring. (They’ll cost a good bit more then, too.)
Put another way: Peruse some of the 3-gallon pots spotted in nurseries today. They’re big enough to make almost instantaneous impacts on their surroundings.
Plants set out now will have the longest time possible to establish new roots before next summer arrives.
Many nurseries will begin to have fall closeout sales over the next several weeks. They’ll either be trying to reduce the over-wintering responsibilities or eliminate them altogether. So again, you may get a larger plant for less money — that’s like getting double reward stamps at the grocery.
Time to establish roots
Plants set out now will have the longest time possible to establish new roots before next summer arrives. Planted now, they’ll get seven or eight solid months. Planted in April or May, they’ll get a few weeks. Since roots definitely do grow all winter, that makes for a giant head start on getting the new plants established.
Quiet before the storm
You have more time now than you will in the spring. Come March and April you’ll be busy finishing up pruning, reworking the soil, starting your garden, scalping the yard, putting out pre-emergents, setting out spring flowers and taking equipment in for repairs (because you forgot to do so over the winter).
Life moves at a slower pace in the fall. And, while you have more time now than in spring, so does your nurseryman. They’re only human, and a big percentage of their annual sales come from mid-March to late May. They have a lot less time in spring to sit down with you and help plan for your projects. Fall is much better.
Assess what parts of your landscaping fared well and which areas got into trouble this past season
Where do you start?
After the effects of the unusual spring and summer we endured this year, an important step is to assess what parts of your landscaping fared well and which areas got into trouble this past season.
A pain in the drain
Poor drainage killed a lot of plants last spring. If you intend to use any of the same plant types that didn’t fare too well earlier in the year, do whatever you can to improve your drainage situation before using them.
Some good strategies include planting them on raised berms or cutting shallow swales to encourage run-off. If a swale is out of the question, consider French drains or surface drains. It might not hurt to consult with a landscape contractor or drainage specialist — a move likely to be good for your house’s foundation.
This summer, many North Texas gardeners saw their plants get “fat” and “lazy” after all the spring rains. Summer arrived like a line of tanks and sunburned many usual stars of our summer views. Make note of those that were hurt, and if they were new plants, do a little research to see how others have fared with those same plants in your area.
If they were established plants that have never had that kind of problem before, chalk that one up to the weather.
An enigma called “shade”
Although shade is something we all seek, when our trees grow larger and we get down to fewer than five or six hours of good, direct sunlight each day, the grass will probably start to thin. If that is happening in your landscape and you’ve done all the trimming you care to do, this fall could be the optimal time to plant shade-tolerant ground covers that will be able to fill the voids.
Something old; something new
Don’t fear a complete redesign if you’re reworking old beds. It’s not uncommon to redo beds after 15 or 20 years and come up with an entirely new look. Many people do that inside their homes. It stands to reason it would also work outside. Save the best trees and any large shrubs that can still contribute, then design around them.
Neil Sperry publishes Gardens magazine and hosts “Texas Gardening” from 8 to 10 a.m. Sundays on WBAP/820 AM. Reach him during those hours at 800-288-9227. Online: http://neilsperry.com.