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Fall is best season for planting
Extension advice
Richard Evans
Richard Evans is the UGA Extension agent for Bryan County. - photo by File photo

We have discussed lately what jobs to avoid during the fall garden season. Now is not a good time to prune or fertilize. Fall is an excellent time to plant though. October and November are the best months of the year to plant perennials, shrubs, trees and fruits.

Many gardeners like to plant woody plants and perennials in the spring. This is probably because of "spring fever." We see all the beautiful colors and think, "I want that in my yard." Spring planting is OK – but fall planting is much better.

Fall planting is best because plants need a period of moist, warm-but-not-hot weather to establish roots and prepare for the harsh weather of summer. Fall-planted plants have all winter to get established. They will do generally better than spring-planted ones when hot, dry weather comes.

Fall planting is more than just digging a hole and inserting a plant. I get many calls about dying plants. Most plants are killed by poor planning and planting. Follow these planting directions to avoid problems:

1. Select plants adapted to this area. Just because it is in the garden center does not mean it will do well here. Also, if you have moved here from elsewhere, remember to research before you buy. Plants popular wherever you have moved from may not do well here. Some plants do better than others here. Do not plant white pines, use loblolly. Avoid silver maple, try red or trident maple. Instead of sycamore, try oaks or tulip poplar if it is a moist fertile site. Call us for more information, we have a list.

2. Till the soil to a depth of 12 inches over a wide area. Do not just dig a planting hole – dig a large planting bed. The area should be at least five to six times the width of the root ball.

If the soil has a lot of clay or is too hard or sandy, you can add two or more inches of organic matter and till in. Do not use organic matter if you are digging a small planting hole. It can actually hurt the plant. Research now shows that organic matter is not necessary. The most important thing is how well the soil is tilled.

Shrubs and perennials should also be planted in well-tilled beds. Organic matter can also be added. Consider raising the bed by adding soil and organic matter. It should be about 6 to 12 inches higher than the rest of the yard. This improves drainage (especially important on wet sites) and improves root growth. Raised beds are almost a must for perennials. Raised beds must be well irrigated though or they will dry out.

3. If the plant is in a container, prepare the soil, dig your planting hole and then remove the plant from the pot. If plants are pot-bound, they will have roots matted around the edge of the root ball. Cut these roots at three or four places around the pot before planting.

For balled and burlap plants, cut any wire or cord from around the trunk and pull the burlap from the top third of the root ball. If planting on poorly drained sites, remove the burlap completely.

With bare-root plants, carefully spread the roots out in a large planting hole like they were originally growing.

Carefully fill around plants. Use your hands, not your feet, to gently firm the soil around the plant. Water as you fill to settle soil around roots. Water very well when you finish and again several hours later.

You may want to shape a small ring around the tree or shrub to catch water. Pull the soil away from the plant when you finish with the ring. This is done after the first summer.

Apply a 2- to 3-inch mulch around plants. Wait until March to fertilize, but water as needed. The soil around the root ball should be kept moist but not wet for at least eight weeks after planting. Amount and timing of water depends on plant location and season. During dry weather, trees and shrubs may need watering twice a week. Annuals may need watering once a day during establishment. Always check soil moisture before watering.

Fall is the best time to plant many shrubs, trees and annuals. Do not miss this important time of the year. Establish plants now to enjoy next year and for years to come.

For more information, call the Bryan County Extension Office at 912-653-2231 in Pembroke or email us at

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