When is the best time to plant an all-season landscape with ornamental shrubs and trees?
When I plant, I try to develop interest in the landscape throughout the year. Ornamental shrubs that carry attractive foliage, berries and blooms when other plants are not in blossom deserve some attention if you want a well-planned landscape.
Planting shrubs and trees in the fall gives them a better chance of surviving hot weather. In the South, our winters are pretty mild and our soil rarely gets cold enough for roots to stop growing in the winter. Plants also require less water in the cooler months.
First, select the right planting site and make sure it meets the requirements for good soil structure, sun and water requirements. When planting a shrub or tree, plant at the depth that the plant was growing in the container.
When planting ball and burlapped plants, make sure to cut the wire or cord around the trunk that holds the burlap in place. When you purchase root-bound plants, cut small slits in the root ball so you can spread the roots out.
Do not fertilize; wait to fertilize until the spring to stimulate new growth. Add 3 to 4 inches of mulch around your plants to conserve moisture. Water only as needed.
There are many varieties of shrubs. I like shrubs with fruit that is held until winter, attracting wildlife, and also shrubs that go out with a blaze of autumn color.
Some examples of smaller shrubs are the Japanese barberry with its reddish purple color in autumn and bright red berries in the winter, and oakleaf hydrangea, with its deep green foliage in summer turning to red, orange, brown and purple in autumn. The bark of mature plants is cinnamon brown with a peeled-back look to it.
Also, look for trees with patterned or textured bark. Bold or unusual plant structure and form are more evident after the leaves drop in the fall.
A medium to large tree (30 feet or taller at maturity) that has striking qualities is the paperbark maple, which has peeling bark, and also the Japanese stewartia tree, with its camellia-like flowers that appear in late summer and continue until frost.
This tree's leaves turn vibrant red and orange in the autumn and it has exfoliating bark that creates a pattern of white, beige and dark brown.
Careful planning can create a striking combination of plants that complement one another throughout the year. Your end result will be an ever-changing, interesting landscape.
Wanda Cannon is a Master Gardener trained through the Hall County program and also serves as Master Gardener coordinator and horticulture assistant for the Hall County Extension office. Phone: 770-535-8293.