Published on 11/16/06

Holidays are perfect times for landscape planting

By Dan Rahn
University of Georgia

The winter holidays are perfect for eating turkey, watching football and planting shrubs in your landscape. If you don't ordinarily associate planting shrubs with the holidays, it's not because the two don't go together.

"It's really an ideal time," said Bob Westerfield, a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension horticulturist. And that's not just because you have some time off for the holiday.

"Planting now will allow several months for the plants' root systems to get established before the hot weather starts next summer," Westerfield said. "Summer is when our landscape plants are really stressed, and the plants can handle that stress much better with a better developed root system."

Think 'roots'

Like planting at Thanksgiving, roots don't automatically come to mind when you think of landscape plants. You can't see them, and even if you could, you wouldn't be impressed.

But the roots have to supply all the water and nutrients the plant needs to grow a top that will impress you. And the best time for the roots to grow is during the fall and winter.

Fall-planted ornamentals normally have a supply of carbohydrates and other food substances stored in their roots from the past growing season. So with little demand from the tops, the roots are able to grow and become well-established before the next spring.

The plant can divert all its energy into developing a good supply of roots, Westerfield said. Then when spring does come, the plant will be able to pop with growth.

Best time

"For deciduous trees and shrubs, the best time for root growth is when they're dormant," he said, "after they've been exposed to some chilling temperatures."

What about the cold stress? "For the most part, that's really not a concern in Georgia," Westerfield said. "Our soil temperatures just don't get that cold."

In fact, most of Georgia's soil temperatures don't get low enough to keep the roots from growing all winter.

The Thanksgiving holidays aren't too late for planting. For that matter, Westerfield said, neither are the Christmas holidays, or January, or February.

"It's an ideal time, actually," he said. "About the only bad thing is that you might run into some weather that's not very pleasant for planting."

Plants available

Supplies of landscape plants are less plentiful than in the spring. But Westerfield said that's not really a hindrance.

"Generally, the plants are there," he said. "Sales are slower -- that's true. But you can usually find the plants you want. They may not have the size you might look for in the spring, but they'll reach that size better next spring if they're already established in your landscape."

When you plant in the fall, Westerfield said, do almost everything just as you would in the spring. The only big difference is that you don't want to fertilize in the fall. Wait until next spring for that.

You don't need to prune, either, unless you need to remove structural problems or damaged branches. You don't want to encourage foliage growth during the fall and winter.

Water the plant as much as it needs, Westerfield said. Anytime it's dry during the fall or winter, plants need watering just as they would during a dry spring or summer.

They can be much more forgiving if you're a day late watering them in the fall, though. Their real test won't come until next summer.

(Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)

Dan Rahn is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.