Dr. Eddie Seagle

Dr. Eddie Seagle

“September tries its best to have us forget summer.” -Bernard Williams. “September is the month of maturity; the heaped basket and the garnered sheaf. It is the month of climax and completion. September! I never tire of turning it over and over in my mind. It has warmth, depth and colour. It glows like old amber.” -Patience Strong.

It’s September – that transitional time between summer and fall with days filled with sunshine and nights a bit cooler. You can feel in the air that little something about nature which is about to undergo change. Nature always sends out an invitation to gardeners and gets them interested throughout the landscape. It’s the time to take action in the landscape, starting with planting and transplanting to improve curb appeal and satisfy personal interests and needs.

Plans for transplanting trees and shrubs begin to take priority over most other agenda that might be on your to-do list in the landscape. So, the first question to address is “When is the best time to plant or transplant trees and shrubs?” Most trees and shrubs can be planted most any time throughout the year (excepting extreme temperatures when the ground is freezing or the heat intolerable), but the unconditional best time is in the fall. Reason being the fall season offers cool air and warm soil temperatures which are the impeccable combination for establishing necessary roots in their new environment. However, some plants like the Sago Palm prefer a spring transplanting.

Most plants grown in containers can be planted throughout the year. Plants that are balled and burlapped perform best when planted between October and March. If you are attempting to transplant an existing tree or large shrub, practice root pruning a few months before actual moving the plant. This exercise will encourage new roots to develop inside the root prune since approximately 95% of the root system is left behind during the standard digging process. Once again, the cooler air and warm soil of the fall is kind to plants and trees, especially those that have just lost a major portion of their roots during digging, in contrast to the heat and stress of the summer which can be very devastating to the plant.

Possibly the greatest advantage in fall transplanting is that most deciduous plants and trees are beginning to enter a period of dormancy. Therefore, the energy typically required to sustain existing foliage and vegetative growth can be directed towards root development and storing nutrients and resources during these cool months. Henceforth, by the time spring arrives and the demand for the new growth of leaves and vegetative components goes into full throttle, the root system should be well established so the plant can properly address the spring requirements and survive the upcoming demands of summer.

When transplanting, preliminary work at the new site can definitely make the difference between those trees and shrubs that will simply survive and those that will definitely thrive. Such activities will include digging the planting hole two to three times wider than the current root ball will be, but no deeper than the plant was growing in its previous environment.

Also, when planting a container-grown plant, don’t assume that the soil level in the container indicates the proper depth for planting. Often growers add more soil media to the container, which actually places too much soil above the root level. At planting time, remove the soil at the top of the container to locate the actual root surface which will be the proper level for planting in the ground.

It is much better to plant a tree or shrub slightly (not significantly) higher and allow the area to settle and to drain, rather than to sit in a bowl and collect excess water (thus wet feet which is deadly and terminal).  Newly disturbed soils have a tendency to settle and plants growing below grade can easily surrender to root rot or other disease.

A most critical step at this stage of the process is sufficient watering. Such watering provides needed moisture, but also helps eliminate any air pockets around the roots that could otherwise result in dead roots. Build a small moat around the plant to help hold water for infiltration into the soil and prevent run-off and water loss.

As the project is completed, add a mulch with three to four inches of organic matter (pine straw or ground bark). In addition to aesthetics, mulch functions in helping the soil retain its moisture and moderate its temperature. In addition to cooler temperatures, winter can bring drier conditions, thus water as needed since the roots are still growing and soil moisture is essential for survival.

Everyone wants instant greenery, but the larger the tree, the more critical the process. When at the nursery, buy the most healthy and shapely plants. Look for plants that have healthy foliage and no roots exiting the container’s bottom drain holes (which is a strong indication that they are root-bound or pot-bound). Always remember that smaller is smarter. If you have a choice (as per design and/or inventory), buy smaller plants. These are less expensive, easier to handle, and should catch up to the larger ones during the season. Also, purchase after the rush traffic has completed (usually two to three weeks later) and you will get a better purchasing bargain (that is, if price is a factor).

Always read and save the plant tags or labels for future reference. Find out their size and their cultural requirements, such as sun or shade, fertilization, water, etc. (full sun means at least six to eight hours of sun each day). Be sure they are for your climatic zone (south Georgia is between zones 8 and 9 on the national list). Choose those plants fitting to your local microclimate in your lawn or landscape. Know about your plants!

Check the spacing requirement on the label and follow it closely. Allocate enough space to allow the plants to reach their full sizes and shapes. It’s very tempting to cram them closely together when they are small, but a crowded plant never grows well due to competition between plants and space restrictions.

Think in terms of native and sustainable plants in the landscape. May this bit of awareness spark your desire to learn and ask questions, encourage you to further apply your gained knowledge, and bring you to further realize that environmental stewardship and sustainability should be at the foundation of all your home landscape plans and activities.

Keep your hanging baskets and potted plants refreshed with water and food. Remember to feed and water the songbirds, and give your pets the care they need (better to have a dog on the sofa than one on the chain). Be on the lookout for children playing and bicyclists riding along the streets and roadways throughout our communities.

And, congratulations and best wishes to our daughter, Autumn Lee, and her husband-to-be (Joel Hanson) on their upcoming marriage this week in San Diego!

Seagle is a Sustainability Verifier, Golf Environment Organization (Scotland), Agronomist and Horticulturalist, CSI: Seagle (Consulting Services International), Professor Emeritus and Honorary Alumnus (Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College), Distinguished Professor for Teaching and Learning (University System of Georgia) and Short Term Missionary (Heritage Church, Moultrie). Direct inquiries to csi_seagle @yahoo.com.

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