Fall is for Planting Shrubs

The phrase “Fall is for Planting” is a common one in the horticultural world and for good reason.  In the Midwest, the heat of summer in terms of air temperatures is over, providing gardeners with cool air and less moisture loss from the leaves.  Also on the fortunate side, the soil temperatures are still relatively warm, which will help promote new root growth and facilitate establishment of new plants before the onset of winter.

One of the best groups of plants to install in your landscape in fall is shrubs.  Here’s why:

*They mix well with other plants in the garden including perennials, grasses, trees and even edibles.  They make a great backdrop for shorter plants in the foreground, even when not in flower.  Shrubs offer a blending feature to a landscape, filling gaps between tall trees and groundcover plants, creating an “understory” which is usually present in natural settings, parks and forests.

*Birds and pollinating insects enjoy shrubs for their nectar, food and shelter.  Many gardeners are also pollinator and bird watchers, so having additional attracting elements in the landscape is a plus.

*Shrubs are large enough and long-lived enough to make an impact in the landscape and are available in all sizes and shapes.  While growing evergreen shrubs can be a challenge in some winters, there are plenty of broadleaf shrubs for every landscape and sunlight exposure.  Flower/fruit and leaf colors are also quite abundant in spring, summer, fall and even winter.

*In fall, most ornamental plants are still visible, and you’ve had all season to know which spaces need a little filling in or changing out.

*Some nurseries offer end-of-the-season bargains, which makes it easier on the pocketbook.  The cooler weather of October makes it easier on gardeners when planting.

When planting, keep these guidelines in mind:

*Choose a healthy plant at the nursery.  Don’t be afraid to inspect the roots, especially if it’s in a plastic container.  If the roots are circling, move on to another one.  A few broken branches in the canopy are okay, but if there are more than that it’s not a good specimen.

*Read the plant care tag label and pick a good spot based on sunlight, height and width, moisture levels and visibility from your patio or kitchen window.

*Dig a hole 2-3 times as wide but no deeper than the root mass. This really helps the new roots venture out into the surrounding landscape soil.

*Inspect the roots.  If any are encircling, cut through them with a linoleum or utility knife and redirect them outwards.

*Gradually add back the excavated soil, moistening it as you go.  Do not add compost, manure, peat moss topsoil or other amendments.  

*Water the newly planted shrub thoroughly then keep the soil moist afterwards.  Use a screwdriver to check for soil moisture.  The goal for new shrubs is moist, not soggy or dry.

John Fech
Horticulture Extension Educator at Nebraska Extension
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.
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