I set about this article with mid-October in mind: fall flowers, bulb planting… but as I write in late September, the temperature is still rising into the 90’s — certainly not a Master Gardener’s usual weather alert to “Bring on the pansies!” So I’m playing it safe. As we gear up for fall, let’s instead make note of a few assumptions that might need revisiting while we wait for the cool.
Let’s talk about size. You have your planting area ready and rush to stuff it full of whatever has caught your fancy at the nursery. I am so guilty of this! In my desire to see a “finished look,” I put in too many shrubs. And then they grow, not only tall, but into one another, forming a mass. I tell myself I will simply prune them back. But not only is that time- and labor-consuming, it’s just not right. Plants will do their darndest to reach their mature size. Look at the nursery tags for height and spread. Plant accordingly. If you can’t stand the look of open mulched areas, add annuals, or bulbs—something easily moved when overcrowding starts. You cannot convince a six foot shrub that it wants to be a three foot shrub.
Be aware, too, that whatever you plant here in the South — including any lawn — will have to be watered, or you’re wasting your time and money. With global warming our temperatures are rising, and our weather has become more erratic, weeks of rain followed by weeks of drought. You will need to invest in some sort of system: research the kind you will need.
Trees face their own problems with anxious property owners. It can start with a landscaper who installs a tree, carefully staking it to stand upright. You reason, well, the landscaper knows his business — I’ll leave it staked. Big mistake. The staking is there to steady the tree until it settles in and its roots begin to spread beyond the root ball. Typically, a tree planted in the fall will show some growth in its crown the following spring. Time to take away the staking. It is far better to allow the tree to bend with the wind than to have it snap in two where it has been staked too long.
While we’re at it, let’s consider where you plant that tree. Like those shrubs in the second paragraph, your tree is going to grow. That nice oak sapling is going to be a 50-foot tree. Check for power lines. Yes, they tell you to “call before you dig,” but that’s to avoid underground wiring. Look up! Are there power lines connecting your home to the road? What about the lines along your property? So often people have to resort to topping their trees because they didn’t consider their ultimate height. Trust me, if you don’t do it, the powerline people will.
Then there is county maintenance. Yes, I truly understand the need for roads to be unobscured for safe traffic, but it breaks my heart every time workers come down my street, slicing off branches that have intruded into street space. Granted, I am talking about a patch of woods that I didn’t plant, but the result is the same. Be careful that your trees don’t extend too far outward.
That reminds me of another pet peeve that is usually a landowner’s negligence: overgrown plantings at street corners. These should be kept at 18 inches high or have a canopy above 6 feet. Obviously the question here is safety; anything that obscures a motorist’s view puts everyone at risk — be it children walking or bicyclists or other vehicles. When I first moved to my present location, a house on the corner had been vacant long enough for vegetation to grow unchecked. Accelerating out onto the busy highway was a daily blind leap of faith! Have you checked your corner lately?