Fall To-Do….Or Not

Avid gardeners and piddlers, alike, know there are plenty of chores to busy ourselves with in the autumn months—in case we’re not busy enough already. You know, tidying up, maintaining tools, organizing and planning. But today, I’m going to focus on what I believe are the two most important things you should be doing right now when it comes to fall chores.


Get your pruning shears and loppers sharpened up and ready for action. Then hide them away so you won’t be tempted to use them this fall. Seriously!

Photo: Shape Your Crape the Right Way March 4, 2017
See what can happen? Here, someone got into the shears and loppers at the wrong time of year, among other serious pruning crimes.

With a very few exceptions, you just don’t need to be pruning anything you care about right now. You could delay blooming of some of your favorite plants for a whole season and you might even harm them. Most trees, shrubs, roses and vines in our area need to be pruned just after they’ve bloomed so new growth has a chance to “harden” before the frigid temperatures set in.

If you have some plants that need to be cut back, hold off until middle to late winter, when they’re totally dormant and ready to produce spring buds. Otherwise, you can bring the shears and loppers back out in the spring for light pruning and thinning, I promise.

No. 2

Plant stuff! Fall is prime time in Northeast Georgia for planting trees, shrubs, perennials and spring-blooming bulbs.

Winter Pruning, Feb 7, 2019

The cooler temps make fall planting less stressful on the plants, and the soil is still warm, so the roots can snuggle in and get some growth in before the ground freezes. Skip the fertilizer; you don’t want to encourage tender, new growth that would only be zapped in colder weather. October’s our driest month, so you can plan on watering, but it’ll be easier and less expensive than in spring because there will be less evaporation. Another benefit to fall planting:  Most of the diseases, pests and weeds are gone for the year.

Now, for most of the trees and shrubs we plant here, the fall planting window closes about six weeks before the first hard frost. So depending on your exact location, now is probably the sweet spot.

Tree was planted incorrectly with the metal cage intact.

Have you ever heard the old adage, “Don’t plant a $10 tree in a $2 hole?” If you decide to plant a tree this fall, I strongly encourage you to heed that sage advice. Dig the hole at least 2 times—maybe even 3 times—the width of the root ball to promote fast root growth and grow a stronger tree.

How deep? Measure the distance between the bottom of the root ball and the top-most root (at the trunk), and dig the hole 1-2 inches shy of that depth. The top of the root ball should end up just barely above ground.

Of course, there are lots of other factors to consider when choosing and planting a new tree to make sure it gets the best start possible. Learning about your soil conditions, drainage, sunlight and shade time and the characteristics of the tree before planting will help ensure you’ll be able to enjoy your tree for many years.

Tree planting can be a labor intensive and expensive hobby when you’re new at it. If it seems like you’ve got a lot to learn before you can take advantage of the fall tree-planting season, keep in mind that fall is the perfect time to plant shrubs, too. Juniper, Holly and Clethra are just a few examples of plants that would be a little easier to manage.

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