Keep Landscaping Investments Healthy—Plant in Fall
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – “Most people understand that adding plants to a home landscape adds ‘curb appeal’ and is a smart investment in the property,” says Rob Beets, horticultural marketing specialist with the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, “but perennial plants—anything that lives through the winter to continue growing in the spring—are investments in themselves.”
“Just as you would be careful to invest your money wisely, or keep up your home so it retains or increases its value, be careful choosing the plants for your landscape and then help them retain or increase their value.”
“The single most important decision you can make when adding trees, shrubs, bulbs or any other perennials is to transplant them in the fall of the year,” says the specialist.
“Unlike annuals, which die out at the end of their growing seasons and depend on seeds to propagate their species, perennials depend on deep, vigorous root systems,” says Beets. “A transplanted plant obviously will have had its root system stressed and maybe a little frayed. That plant’s first priority will be to re-establish itself in soil and to broaden its root system to assure its survival, not to bloom or grow above ground, even in spring.”
Plants already use the late fall and winter to develop their root systems, according to Beets. “Any plant that lives year after year, whether it’s a tree, shrub or perennial flower, is preparing to ‘sleep’ as the days grow shorter. It won’t try to expend any energy to grow, bloom or put out leaves. In fact, it’s going to be ready to do what a newly transplanted plant needs to do, anyway—grow its root system to help it get through the winter.”
“That makes fall the logical time of year to fertilize new plants—which is anything you’ve planted in the past 6 months or so—with a root stimulator,” says Beets. “It‘s usually marked as such, but if not, look for a high middle number on the fertilizer packs. ‘N-P-K’ stands for nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium; these are three primary nutrients for healthy plant growth. Phosphorus, particularly, helps promote healthy root growth.”
“By the time spring comes, a good root system can be established already and that plant will be ready to show off with growth and color.”
Beets also points out that planting these expensive plants at the optimum time is easier not just for the plant, but the plant owner, especially in states with hot, dry summers.
“Soil and moisture conditions for Tennessee in autumn are very conducive to help promote rapid root growth,” says Beets. “But spring can become summer very quickly in Tennessee,
with dry, hard earth developing in no time, so the chance of stressing a plant out that time of year is much greater than in autumn’s less stressful environment.”
“You can get about as stressed out as your plants, having to constantly water your new purchases if you choose to transplant in the spring. That’s not to say that you won’t need to water your autumn transplants at all, but they’ll certainly need less water, less often.”
Of course, proper planting any time of year goes a long way in the long-term success of your landscape, notes Beets.
“The first thing you need to do is make sure you know whether the plant you choose prefers sun or shade, then plant accordingly,” says Beets. “Also, when planting anything, dig the hole twice the width of the pot size or root ball, and plant it about a half inch to an inch above soil level. The worst thing you can do is plant it too deep. And of course, giving a plant the right amount of water helps it get established as well.
“With trees and shrubs that are balled and burlapped, once you place the root ball in the hole, you need to remove the string, and cut the burlap off the top.”
Success with transplants is also linked to knowing which types of plants are most likely to do well in Tennessee’s climate, and in buying plants from a reputable plant grower.
“I feel confident directing prospective plant buyers to Tennessee’s nurseries and greenhouses,” says Beets, “because you know if that tree or shrub has been thriving out in the field of a Tennessee nursery, it’s clearly accustomed to Tennessee’s seasonal variations. When you purchase directly from the grower, you can also get solid information about where in a landscape that plant belongs, and with how much sun.
“Fall is an even better time to plant perennials and shrubs valued for their fall color,” says the specialist. “By planting now, you can be assured that the individual plant you buy has the color you want, because you can see it yourself. Fall is the perfect time to go to a local to scope out the brightest and best that fall has to offer.
“Plant anytime between now and when the ground is frozen hard,” says the specialist. “As long as the ground is soft, it’s not too late to transplant. It’ll be a wise investment that will pay off every spring for years to come.”
For a list of local plant growers or for more information on fall plants, visit www.picktnproducts.org and click on Nursery Products or contact TDA Market Development at (615) 837-5160.