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Wheeler: If youre going to plant, do it now
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Throughout the year, I will have people call wanting planting advice. Typically they want to know what type of plant should be planted for their landscape. But I also get a lot of questions whether the time of year is right to plant.

Planting time in Georgia can happen during most of the year. This is especially true if you are planting containerized plants. These plants can be planted even in the summer, but maintenance for them is going to a lot more than if you planted them in cooler weather. Balled and burlap trees should be planted anytime other than the summertime, and bare root plants should only be planted in the dead of winter.

No matter what type of plant — bare root, container or ball and burlap — planting in late fall and winter are the ideal times. This gives them the longest time in the ground possible before the heat of summer tests their survival.

The key to a plant’s survival is how well you do your prep work. I always tell people a plant’s first year of growth should concentrate on root establishment. The main reason a plant dies is if the root system is not allowed to develop and become established in the new environment. The more you help the plant now, the less you should have to do later.

Much of the prep work comes from making sure you put the plant in an environment where it can grow healthy. Remember the saying, “Put the right plant in the right spot.” After that, you can’t just throw the plant in the ground and walk away. There are certain things you can do to ensure a happy plant in your landscape.

I know putting plants in the ground is not rocket science, but there are a few things you can do to make your efforts pay off.

The hole the plant goes into will dictate a lot of the success. The main thing you want the plant to do during its first year is grow roots. The best way to do that is to dig a planting hole two to three times the diameter of the root ball. All that loose dirt that surrounds the plant will help it extend roots.

While digging the hole, keep in mind the hole does not need to be deeper than the depth of the container or root ball. The top of the root ball should be level to the ground. Though roots are in the ground, they still have to breathe.

Also make sure there is a firm base at the bottom of the hole so the root system does not slip deeper into the ground. Be sure to water the tree well to make sure all the dirt has settled around the root system.

Once the tree is planted, you may want to add supports if you think it will lean. Adding these supports should be used for a short while as the tree becomes established. Often this means for only a few months or through the summer.

One thing that’s a must is to add a good layer of mulch around the tree. Mulch should be 3 to 4 inches deep but only about an inch of mulch up against the tree itself. A lot of mulch up against the tree will encourage insect and disease problems.

Mulch all the way out to the edge of the planting hole. This will not only keep weeds from sprouting in all that freshly exposed dirt, but it will insulate the roots from extreme temperatures. Mulch will also make your watering efforts more successful, keeping water from evaporating from the soil.

One more advantage mulch offers is to guard the tree or shrub from lawn mowers or weed whackers. Many a tree or shrub has met their doom from “lawn mower blight.”

During the first year, fertilization is not required, but make sure the plant gets about an inch to 1½ inches of water per week, once or twice a week. Or if you are using a soaker hose, water until the top 8 to 10 inches of soil is good and wet. This will make the roots take hold deep in the soil.

If you have any questions, give me a call and we can talk it over.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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