the dirt

Timing is everything in life… and landscaping

Every year when September rolls around that old Byrds song pops into my head. You know the one I’m talking about, the one whose lyrics come straight from the Bible: “To everything (turn, turn, turn), there is a season.” We landscapers instinctively know there is a right time for everything we do from planting perennials to pouring concrete and if we choose to ignore the cycles of Nature, we know it will be harder to achieve the results we want.

Children planting a tree in the fallAct now. So, take it from me, if you want your plantings to be healthy and look their best next year, then now is the time to act. As much as you don’t want to hear it, because you’re tired of working in the yard, weeding, mulching and mowing, September should be one of your busiest months. Despite what many commercial big box stores say, September not spring is the best time to plant trees and shrubs, to seed your lawns and lay sod, to fertilize and apply systemic pesticides.

Here’s why.  Your plants, trees and lawns are getting ready to enter dormancy; roots are in full uptake mode absorbing the nutrients they need to get through the winter. So the more time you give them to establish roots systems (in the case of transplants or new grass seed) and to fortify and protect themselves before dormancy, the stronger they will be next spring.

Plant a tree for fall color. Trees are a great investment; they increase property value, they soften the look of the house and its surroundings. Deciduous trees cool in summer and let the sunshine through in winter. Evergreen trees are a great habitat for wildlife; add winter interest to the garden and provide some protection from winter winds when planted on the northwest side of the house. Trees in general aid in storm water runoff by soaking up moisture and their roots help hold soil in place. I suggest planting a native tree, if you want to add the following colors to your landscape.  Before you plant, remember to do your research first and scale the mature tree size to the planted space. Or else…

Fall foliage

Red:  Buckeye; Scarlett Oak.

Orange:  Sugar Maple; Bald Cypress; Serviceberry (sometimes called Shadbush).

Yellow:  Witchhazel;  Persimmon.

Purple: Black Gum or Swamp Tupelo;  Hawthorn;  Sassafras.

Planting tip: When transplanting a tree, bush or shrub, be sure to cut or “score” the roots that are bunched up and entwined at the bottom. This will make it easier for the roots to drink up water and nutrients and get properly established. Scoring also allows the roots to spread out instead of wrapping around the tree and choking it to death, a condition known as girdling.

Nutrient DisorderFertilize in fall. Since root activity is at its greatest in the fall, this is the best time to fertilize. It is recommended you test your soils first, so that unnecessary fertilizer doesn’t wash into storms drains and streets and ultimately into the Bay. Lawn renovation is also recommended for the fall, not the spring. Seeds germinate in cool weather. If you reseed in spring, the roots won’t have time to get strong and established before the hot weather and drought conditions set in and mowing begins.

Beware the beetle.  Roses and crepe myrtles took a beating this summer from the Japanese beetle. One friend told me they laughed at the Sevin she sprayed on them and flew by the bag traps she set for them. The bad news is next summer the beetles are expected to be even worse, especially if we get another mild, moist winter as forecasted. The solution:  apply systemic insecticide now during peak root uptake to protect plants against next year’s invasion. Look for an insecticide with the active ingredient of Imidicloprid, a neurotoxin that may not kill the beetles but will certainly keep them away. My arborist says Imidicloprid leaves a bad taste in their mouth. While you can buy this insecticide online and at nurseries, I recommend you leave this job to the professionals to avoid doing more harm than good. Call in your local arborist or pest control applicator to ensure you are effectively treating your plants in a targeted way.

Bagworm Battle of the Bag worm. The Bag worm infestation is also very bad right now due to the mild winter and record rainfall we experienced in 2013. To avoid an even worse problem next year, hand pick off the bags throwing them to the ground to starve and die. Each bag has 200 eggs in it, so taking this relatively small step now will have a big payoff later.

About Missy Jones

Missy Jones, owner of Architectural Gardens, is a Master Watershed Steward in Anne Arundel County. Since growing up on the Severn River watershed, her passion is to help save the bay and educate homeowners about conservation landscaping, thus reducing the negative impact of stormwater runoff. Landscaping is in her blood: Missy’s father owned a landscaping company in the Annapolis area and she’s been gardening ever since she learned to walk. Call Missy for a consult, 800.280.2103, and let’s get started.
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