By Brent Gray
Garden centers and nurseries have expanded their fall selections of plants in recent years. People in the horticulture industry know that fall is an excellent planting time, but the public typically looks to the spring as the ideal time.
As “green industry” businesses have expanded their fall plant offerings, the public has begun to take the hint and look at the fall as another gardening season with many possibilities. For example, it used to be that all you found was mums, pansies and ornamental cabbage or kale for fall planting. Now, there are all kinds of cool season annuals available to make the fall garden just as showy as the spring. Check out your local garden center or nursery right away to get those plants in the ground!
If you have already purchased your spring-flowering bulbs, wait until November when the ground is cooler to plant. Store these purchased bulbs in the vegetable crisper of your fridge. Keep your apples and other fruit out of the bulb storage area or you might cause premature sprouting of the bulbs due to the ethylene gas that is given off by the fruit. Have your bulbs planted before January or the bulbs will not have time to grow an adequate root system to support the emerging foliage.
Now is not the time to prune fruit trees, fruiting bushes, or fruiting vines. Wait until January or February to prune fruit trees and vines. Blackberries and raspberries should have already been shaped and will need no further pruning before next year’s crop of berries. Remember that if you mulch your fruiting trees, bushes and vines, do not pile the mulch around the trunk or this will provide a cover for the vicious little vole that eats the bark and can girdle and kill your plants. Mulching is multi-functional. It retains moisture, keeps down weeds, buffers the temperature changes in the soil during the changing of the seasons, looks attractive and keeps the maniacal, over zealous weed-whacker operators away from the trunks of your plants.
You have until Nov. 1 to seed those cool season grasses in Zone 7 (north Mississippi). Tall fescue and creeping red fescue are your choices for Zone 7. Kentucky bluegrass is recommended only for Zone 7a. Seeding rates per 1000 square feet are 4 pounds of tall fescue, 3 pounds for creeping fescue and 1.5 pounds for Kentucky bluegrass. Established Kentucky bluegrass lawns would benefit from an application of fertilizer in the middle of this month. Remember to mow these cool season grasses high. The recommended mowing height is two to three inches for the winter months. You won’t have to worry about mowing those warm season grass lawns for too much longer. Bermudagrass and the other warm season grasses cease top growth with the first killing frost. Hallelujah!
Trees and Shrubs
The dormant season is, by far, the best time to plant trees and shrubs. If you think about it, doesn’t that make sense? Deciduous trees and shrubs are dormant. The leaf canopy is absent, so there is less water and nutrient requirements to keep the plant alive. The metabolic rate has slowed even for evergreens during the cold season. Plants are typically not subjected to the stress of bugs, disease and hot, droughty weather during the winter months. Assess your landscape and determine where you need a tree or a grouping of shrubs to add to your landscape. Trees and shrubs have many functions. What function do you want them to serve? Do you need a screen, windbreak, noise buffer, or a specimen or focal point for the yard? Select the plant or plants based on your landscape needs and the environmental and cultural requirements of the plant. A great publication to help you is entitled, “Selecting Land-scape Plants.” You can request this Extension publication from your County Extension office or download and print a copy by going from this website.
October is the end of the warm-season vegetable garden. Pick those last tomatoes, peppers, beans, squash, and cucumbers and get ready for the cold. Dig those sweet potatoes before that killing frost. Be careful not to bruise or injure the roots, as these damaged potatoes will be susceptible to rot. It is always a good idea to clean up the garden before winter. Remove all the warm season vegetable plants. These can harbor disease organisms and overwintering insects that can infest your garden next spring. Beets, carrots and turnips can stand a light frost, but not hard freezes. When a hard freeze is predicted, dig these roots crops, process and store or eat them all up!