Fall and early winter are an excellent time to make some mathematical adjustments to your landscape.  As deciduous plants enter into a dormant phase, they have less demands for water and nutrients since they don’t have leaves to support for the next few months.  Even though evergreen plants still have leaves that are actively photosynthesizing during the winter, their overall growth rate slows down drastically.  Plants only need fertilizer when they are actively growing.  This is why we don’t recommend fertilizing dormant landscape plants in the fall or winter months.  You can also reduce the amount of water needed for landscape plants, since they are not losing water as quickly through soil evaporation or transpiration from their leaves. 

Addition: This is the perfect time of year to add new plants to your landscape. Take advantage of the fact that plants are dormant and can be planted with much less environmental stress this time of year.  Even though the top portion of the plant is dormant, the roots will continue to grow and establish more quickly during the cooler months of the year.  This will give your plants a significant head start before the next growing season.  Planting in the spring or summer is far more stressful to plants, since they simultaneously have to support the growth of leaves and roots.

Subtraction: Perhaps your landscape is getting a bit overgrown and you would like to subtract some old plants that are no longer needed.  Consider donating any plants that you no longer want to local garden clubs or school gardens. These plants may still have some value to someone else if they find the right home. This is a great time of year to transplant small trees, shrubs, and perennials.  If you can’t find a place for them right away, transfer them to containers to temporarily hold them for later planting.  

Multiplication: Your perennial and annual flowers may have gone dormant for the year, but don’t cut them back until you have a chance to harvest some seeds.  Collecting seeds from dried out flowers can be an economical way to multiply your garden for free next year!  Some examples of plants that produce numerous seeds and are easy to dry and save include Cosmos, Zinnias, Marigolds, Coneflowers, Black Eyed Susan, and many others.  These seeds can be separated and stored in a dry paper bag through the winter.  You can give away extra seeds as gifts or donate to a local school or seed library.  We don’t recommend saving seeds from most fruits or vegetables, since they often will not grow true to type.  For example, random cross-pollination during the growing season with squash, zucchini, pumpkins, or gourds can result in some very unusual progeny if the seeds are saved for next year.  Have you ever seen a squashkin before?  

Division: Many perennial plants grow in clumps and need to be divided every few years to minimize competition in your garden.  Plants that may need dividing periodically include Hostas, Daylilies, Peonies, and other plants with bulbs or tuberous roots.  Division is one of the quickest ways to propagate perennial plants.  Simply dig up a clump of plants and use a sharp shovel, saw, or knife to cut up the root ball into smaller clumps.  Another method for division is to place the clump of roots into water to remove excess soil and then pull apart individual plants by hand.  Note that many nursery growers put more than one perennial plant per pot to make the plants look bigger and sell faster.  Savvy shoppers might purchase a potted plant and then divide it into two or three plants when they get home.  Three plants for a “fraction” of the price of one could save significantly on the cost of planting! 

Logarithm: This is a good time of year to do a soil test for your lawn or garden and see if you need to make any adjustments to the soil pH. In chemistry, pH is a logarithmic measure of the acidity of soil in a solution.  The change of soil pH is a tenfold increase or decrease from each unit of measurement.  To accurately determine the amount of limestone you need to neutralize your soil type, a routine soil test should also include the lime buffering capacity (LBC) value as part of the calculation.  It takes a few months for the soil pH to change.  Therefore, adjusting your soil pH in the fall will help unlock and release more nutrients from fertilizers applied next spring.

Paul Pugliese is the Extension Coordinator and Agricultural & Natural Resources Agent for Bartow County Cooperative Extension, a partnership of The University of Georgia, The U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Bartow County.  For more information and free farm, lawn, or garden publications, call (770) 387-5142 or visit our local website at extension.uga.edu/bartow.

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