As we go into November we are right in the middle of the best planting season in North Texas. What’s that you say? You mean we shouldn’t wait now until next spring? Absolutely not! While this is not the time to plant tomatoes or warm season annuals, it is the best time for nearly everything else. Fall planting goes way beyond pansies and chrysanthemums. Trees, shrubs, ground covers, wildflowers, perennials, and bulbs should all be going into the ground now. In short, any plant that lives a long time or has an extensive root system gets more time to establish root when planted in the fall.
The reasoning here is very simple. Extensive studies by Dr. Carl Whitcomb of Oklahoma State University and our own Texas A&M have shown that the most extensive root growth occurs in the fall. In the spring and summer, our plants use most of their energy producing leaves, flowers, and finally seed or fruit. Not much is left for root expansion. Furthermore, since our soils rarely freeze to any appreciable depth, roots continue to grow through the winter even though the top of the plant may be dormant. Take for example our state plant; the bluebonnet. This annual plant will start germinating in September or October. After some initial top growth in the fall, the bluebonnet remains a green rosette throughout the winter. The top doesn’t grow much but the root, which is extended down into the warmer soil will continue to expand as beneficial winter moisture soaks slowly into the soil. When things begin to warm up in the early spring, our bluebonnets are well rooted and ready to bloom.
That being said, your local nursery should be well stocked and eagerly awaiting you avid gardeners and landscaping enthusiasts. The following are a few suggestions (or reminders) of things that will help both you and your nurseryman make good choices. Shopping for plants can be frustrating (too many choices) and time consuming for those who are not prepared.
1. KNOW YOUR DIMENSIONS: Whether you are planting flowers, shrubs, trees, or simply buying lawn fertilizer you should know the size of the area you are working with. Many times when the nurseryman is trying to determine just how many shrubs it will take to fill a bed the customer responds with “Well, it’s about from here to that pole over there and maybe four foot wide.” The customer then goes home to discover that they have over or under estimated and now have to drive back to the nursery to buy more or return the extras. My personal favorite on dimension is when the customer buying fertilizer or a lawn care product will ask, “How much area will this cover?” I reply, “The recommended rate is ten pounds per thousand square feet. How big is your lawn?” Customer replies “I don’t know!!”………..Or even worse “I have an average size lawn.” What’s that supposed to be??
2.KNOW YOUR EXPOSURE: Sun, shade, rain, wind, and direction all are important in plant selection. One of the most common mistakes occur when plants that like shade are placed in the sun or vice versa. Be aware that the shadows cast by buildings and trees lengthen and shorten as the seasons change. What is a shady spot in April may be in full sun by June. Southern and western exposures will be warmer than northern or eastern. Opens areas will dry out quicker from wind. Protected areas stay wet longer. Plants that receive high runoff from the roof or drainage areas may wash out or suffocate in standing water.
3. MAKE A DRAWING: One of the best ways to help your nurseryman understand these things like dimensions and direction is to make a simple drawing. Be sure to include anything you think is important. Location of doors, windows, pathways, trees, gates, storage areas, desirable views, and such are all good info at the nursery. If you don’t draw up a plan you should have these things memorized at the very least.
4. BRING A SAMPLE: I wish I had a nickel for every minute I’ve wasted trying to guess a plant based on verbal descriptions or walking a customer through hundreds of plants so they could “spot it.” It is so much easier to snip off a bit of the plant and bring it with you or at least have a picture or description from a book or magazine. A good sample will consist of a branch with several leaves and/or flowers or fruit (seed, berry). One leaf does not make a good sample as so many leaves are similar or the one leaf you selected may be deformed or atypical. Samples are especially important when it comes to damage from insects or disease. In the case of insects it is best to capture the pest itself if you can. With disease, a good sample will consist of several leaves or branches showing the suspected malady in progress. Please do not just bring dead leaves or branches! Believe me, all that even the best horticulturists can tell you from looking at a dead stick is that yes, it is a dead stick. Most of us don’t have labs or training in forensics. Samples will insure quick identification and intelligent recommendations. Otherwise all we can do is guess.
5. EDUCATE YOURSELF: Learn as much as you can about what you are doing on your own. Unfortunately there are sales people out there who get a sort of twisted satisfaction out of taking advantage of innocent people. There are also those who will pretend to be expert when in reality they may know as little or less than you. Education is the best insurance policy against becoming a victim. If you are reading this magazine you are on the right track. Many good books have been recently published that deal with the various aspects of gardening and landscaping. The internet is also an excellent place to get educated. Just be aware that as you sift through all the info that what constitutes a good landscape in Vermont may not work at all in Texas.
My apologies (but thanks for reading my article) to all you veteran gardeners who would consider these suggestions as pretty much a “no brainer.” Nonetheless, as a nursery owner I know that there are many people who will benefit from this. The problem is, most non-gardeners don’t read gardening magazines. So I’m counting on you to pass this information along if you will. Then maybe next time you go to the nursery you won’t have to stand around and wait while the person ahead of you is attempting to learn everything they need to know about landscaping…………..in one day!!
Many thanks, ……………….Paul Dowlearn