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Skaggs: Fall in the garden still holds much work

POSTED: November 14, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Fall is an exciting time for gardening. It may be our last chance to have fun in the garden until next spring. Fortunately, we can garden essentially year-round in Georgia, and fall is the ideal time for many activities.

In most of Georgia, fall is the best time to plant new trees and shrubs in the yard. The weather is cooling off, and this reduces water loss from newly planted trees and shrubs, which do not have an extensive root system. Typically, woody trees and shrubs will only need to be watered once a week.

The other big advantage of fall planting is that the new plant has several months to establish a root system before we get into the hot, dry summer. Most plants that don't survive the first year die of lack of water, and most of these die in the summer.

You can avoid much of the normal first-year loss by planting in the fall. First-year growth will usually be greater, since fall-planted shrubs have established root systems and are ready to grow in the spring.

Another advantage of fall planting is that it's just more pleasant for the gardener. Across North Georgia, you can generally plant throughout the fall and winter. But avoid planting in extreme cold weather.

Fall is a good time to apply mulch to landscape beds. You would be amazed how much better your landscape can look from merely applying a fresh layer of mulch, such as pine straw or shredded hardwood.

Mulching in the fall can help prevent soil erosion from winter rains. Other materials that provide satisfactory mulching include pine bark, hardwood bark, compost and even shredded leaves.

The relatively mild winter in most of Georgia means plants will be metabolically active. Even though we don't see active growth, the plant still is alive and needs energy.

This means that most plants will respond positively to a light application of fertilizer in the fall. This will give plants added nutrients necessary to overwinter in good health. If you haven't fertilized your plants since spring, they may benefit from fall fertilization.

Apply about half the amount used in the spring. We don't want to stimulate new growth in the fall, since the new growth would be subject to freeze damage.

If you've waited until November to fertilize, that's perfectly fine. Your plants will be dormant, and there is little chance of new growth with a light application of fertilizer.

We often think of container gardens for the spring and summer. However, several annuals will provide excellent color in the fall or winter. Winter annuals that provide great color include pansies, violas and snapdragons.

Also, don't forget about foliage plants such as ornamental cabbage and kale, which are great in combination with the more traditional winter annuals. Fall-planted winter annuals generally will provide color through the winter and spring, until temperatures begin to rise in the spring.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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