Published on 09/15/97

Avoid Planting Problems This Fall

Fall is perhaps the best time of the year for putting in a new landscape or just adding a few plants to your flower bed. The cooler weather allows plants to establish themselves with much less stress than when planting in the hot summer.

Planting in the fall will also enable the plants to develop strong root systems in preparation for the long, hot, dry season next year.

To make your landscape planting more successful, first avoid some common mistakes.

Begin by selecting the correct plants. I can't say how many times I have driven through neighborhoods and have seen plants I know will grow to 30 feet planted right under a window or overhang.

Make sure you know the ultimate mature height of your plant before you buy it. Select plants that will fit the site and not outgrow it.

Don't buy exotic plants from mail-order houses, either. Many of these plants that look great in the catalog either won't survive the Georgia winter or are more suited to a dry climate out West.

Pay attention to the hardiness zones of the plants you choose. Georgia ranges from climatic zones 6b through 8a, which means some plants will grow only in certain areas of the state. Learn which zone you live in and select only plants for your area.

Be sure to follow proper planting procedures. Perhaps the largest percentage of plant problems that county agents diagnose are related to improper planting.

A great plant won't survive in a poor hole. In other words, take the time to properly prepare the area before planting. This includes tilling or spading the entire bed and adding organic material to the whole area.

Don't make the mistake of just digging a hole the size of the container and adding some compost to the hole. This will result in problems.

Dig your plant holes at least two times larger than the root ball -- bigger is better -- and don't add pure organic matter to the hole. Instead, backfill the hole with the same mixture you prepared in tilling the bed.

Be sure to plant the shrub level with the ground and the top of the root ball.

Another problem is poor drainage. Most plants simply cannot survive with continuously wet roots. Tilling or spading the area may not be enough to improve the drainage to acceptable standards.

Begin correcting poor drainage by studying the flow of water runoff during a good rainstorm. You can learn a lot about the drainage then. Adding a gutter or moving a downspout may be all you need to do to correct the problem. Use drain tile pipe to divert water away from plants.

Raising the bed by incorporating organic matter or topsoil is another way to deal with poorly drained sites. Raise the level at least 8 to 12 inches to insure

proper drainage.

Don't overmulch plants in areas that tend to stay wet. In this case, you don't want to conserve moisture but hasten its escape.

Don't select plants that are sensitive to problem wet areas, either. I would never plant an azalea or rose bush in an area prone to staying wet. Look for plant choices more tolerant of such extremes, such as dwarf yaupon, wax myrtle or crepe myrtle.

By following a few basic guidelines you can prevent a lot of landscape headaches later. Take advantage of the great fall weather and revitalize your landscape today.

Bob Westerfield is a University of Georgia Cooperative Extension consumer horticulturist with the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.