By Brent Gray
Two of the most exciting activities in the fall are cheering on our favorite team and gardening. As temperatures begin to drop and rains become more frequent, some of us get excited about working in the garden again. Whether you are planting new shrubs and trees, replacing dead ones, or dividing existing plants, fall is a great time to work in the landscape.
If planting a new area, it is important to remember to select healthy plant material at the nursery or garden center. Choose plants that are free of insects, diseases, and that are growing vigorously. I have visited all of our local Garden Centers lately and they all have a wide selection of ornamentals and flowers from which to choose.
If planting an individual shrub remember to dig a hole that is twice as wide as the rootball, but no deeper. It is even a good idea to leave the new rootball slightly above the natural soil-line. If planting an entire bed, till to a depth of 6 inches and amend with a good quality soil.
Planting in the fall will require less water, and plants will root during the winter months before showing top-growth in the spring. You may have to wait until mid-winter if you wish to plant balled & burlap (B&B) or bare-root (BR) plants. Many large shade and fruit trees are sold in this way.
The most popular cool season annuals are pansies, snapdragons, and ornamental cabbage and kale. There is a wide range of colors to choose from in order to match any landscape. Chrysanthemums are now blooming and can provide mass displays of color. Check with your local garden center now. Remember, Mums are a perennial, so don’t throw them away when they stop blooming. Plant them in a sunny location and enjoy them for years to come.
Spring flowering bulbs should also be planted in October and November. Remember to plant the bulb twice as deep as the bulb’s diameter. Some bulbs may need to be chilled before planting, so be sure to ask your local landscape professional.
It is usually not recommended to fertilize ornamentals after August 15. This will prevent any new growth from being damaged by an early freeze. You can treat the turf with a weed-preventer (winterizer), which will assist in keeping winter weeds down. Be sure the product is labeled for your turf type.
One possible major pest to be on the lookout for this month is the Fall Armyworm. They feed day or night and can quickly destroy a small lawn. These creatures are army green in color and have an inverted Y on the top of their head. They can be treated using carbaryl (Sevin), acephate (Orthene), or other products. Treat immediately if you find them in your turf. Also, remember to raise the mowing height on your lawn mower deck for those final fall mowings. This will leave a cushiony stand of turf for the winter months.
Fall is also a great time for general cleanup in the landscape. Pick up any fallen or discarded fruit from under the trees and mow the area. Prune any dead, diseased, or unwanted limbs at this time. Any severe pruning should be left until early spring. Sanitation is the key to a healthy landscape.
Dr. Jeff Wilson is a horticulturist serving northeast Mississippi with Mississippi State University’s Extension Service.