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Fall prime time to prep for spring
By Stephanie Schupska
University of Georgia

While the summer heat may have cooled to an occasional sizzle, chances are it’s left its mark on your yard. With wilted flowers and burned annuals filling flowerbeds, sprinting past your garden and hiding in your house may be tempting.

There are other options.

University of Georgia Cooperative Extension agent Amanda Tedrow says now is the best time to plant winter annuals, bulbs, shrubs and trees, add mulch and test your soil.

“It’s just a good time for general maintenance around the yard. This is the time to do everything you avoided earlier in the year such as picking up the leaves and getting any other debris out of your yard,” she said.

Here is a short list of fall tasks to get your garden and your yard ready for winter and ready for next summer, too.

• Dig a hole. “It is the best time to plant shrubs and trees,” Tedrow said. “They have all winter to establish roots and become acclimated to your soil. They can handle summer temperatures better than if they were planted in the spring.” Plant them before the first hard freeze for better root development. If planted later, they could be more susceptible to cold damage and soil heaving from the ground freezing, thawing and refreezing.

Make sure to pay attention to the planting directions on your trees and shrubs. “We had a shrub brought into our office that had been planted too deep in the middle of winter,” she said. “The freezing and thawing of the soil pulled and cracked some of the bark off of the base of the shrub. The damaged shrub was not able to survive our hot, dry summer.”

• Bag dirt. “It’s a good time to do your soil samples, as most gardeners aren’t as active in the yard” this time of year, she said. “Go ahead and amend it before you plant your spring garden.”

• Mind your mulch. “If you don’t have a good layer of mulch down, it’s a good time to put it down,” she said. “The type of mulch you use depends on your personal preference and how you would prefer it to look. Some people like pine straw, others like pine bark or hardwood mulch.”

Not only will mulch help keep moisture in the soil, it will also help regulate the soil temperature better, keeping plant roots warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer.

• Add fresh color. Whether you plant annuals or perennials, Tedrow has her favorites of each. For winter annuals, she suggests pansies, snapdragons, poppies, cabbages, kale and dusty miller. Perennials that can be planted in the fall include Lenten rose and shrubs such as camellias.

• Prune perennials. Herbaceous perennials – the ones that die back in the winter and pop up again in the spring – can be pruned after they have gone dormant. These include numerous herbs, daylilies, black-eyed Susans, coneflowers in addition to many others.

• Grow a garden. Good fall vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, spinach, lettuce, brussel sprouts, beets, carrots, onions, radishes, lettuces and greens such as kale, mustard, turnip and collard. Others are Swiss chard, radicchio, asparagus, Chinese cabbage, and kohlrabi.

• Prepare for spring. “Plant bulbs for your spring blooms,” Tedrow said. “If you want them to bloom in the late winter, you should go ahead and plant them now.” Bulbs should be bought fresh yearly and then planted that year. “Most spring flowering bulbs are pretty hardy, but only to a certain extent; they can’t survive for months on end in the bags you can purchase at the store.”

(Stephanie Schupska is a news editor with the University of Georgia Public Affairs Office.)

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