Is there a time of the year that is better for planting? This is a question that I am asked all the time.
The answer is yes. Fall and winter are the best times to plant shrubs and trees. But we are in the middle of a drought; is it still a good time to plant? Even in a drought, fall and winter are still the best times.
In the South, our winters are pretty mild compared with other areas of the country. Our soils rarely get cold enough for roots to stop growing during the winter. Our soil temperatures will get into the mid- to high 40s, and at these temperatures, roots will continue to grow. If you plant in the fall and winter, you can have an established root system before the heat of summer hits. Plants that are planted in the fall and winter will need less water during the summer, because their established root systems can better use the soil moisture.
The second reason that fall and winter planting is best is that the plants use less water. The cooler temperatures cause the top of the plant to go dormant or slow down growth so less water is required.
To ensure that your plants have the best start possible, you need to properly prepare the soil for planting.
The first step is to have your soil analyzed to see whether you need to add lime. The soil sample will tell you what nutrients are available for the plant.
Once you have a soil sample, you need to prepare the soil for planting. One of the biggest mistakes I see is someone buying a $20 plant and planting it in a $1 hole. The best investment that you can make in planting is preparing the soil properly. Till the area that you are going to plant 8 to 12 inches deep. I know that is hard to do in our clay soils, but deep tilling will help a plant deal with moisture extremes. A trick that I use around my house is to cover the area that I intend to plant with a layer of mulch three to five inches deep. I then water the mulch and leave it on the area for two to three months. This will loosen the soil and make it easier to work.
When I have tilled the soil, I add soil conditioner or fine ground pine bark to the bed area to help loosen the soil and improve drainage. If you are unable to till the whole bed or you are planting one or two plants, you need to dig the hole three to four times larger than the root-ball of the plant. Use the native soil to fill in around the plant. If you add organic matter to the plant hole, you will create an environment that is different from the surrounding soil. This can lead to the plant roots staying in the area with the better soil instead of spreading out.
When placing the plant, do so at the depth that the plant was growing in the container or slightly higher. One of the major causes of plant death is plants that are placed too deep. This will cause the roots to suffocate. Also, if you are planting ball-and-burlapped plants, you need to make sure to cut the wire or cord tied around the trunk holding the burlap in place. I have seen numerous trees that have died when this cord or wire girdles the tree. When planting plants that are root bound, you need to make four to six small slits with a knife so you can spread the root system out.
When planting, you don't need to add any fertilizer in the planting hole. You will add the fertilizer in the spring when the plant starts to grow.
You will need to add three to five inches of mulch around the plants to help conserve moisture and keep a more uniform moisture level in the soil. Another benefit of mulch is that it will help keep the soil warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. The best mulches to use are organic mulches such as pine straw, pine bark or cypress or hardwood mulches. Rock or stone mulches increase the heat around plants and cause them to use more water.
The last tip for successful planting is to water plants only when needed. You need to wait for the plants to show some wilting before watering. This encourages root growth and a deeper root system. The roots grow looking for water.
So, if you need to plant, fall and winter is the best time to get those plants started off on the right foot.
Columbia County Extension Agent Charles Phillips can be reached at (706) 868-3413 or by e-mail at email@example.com. The Extension Web address is www.ugaextension.com/columbia.
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