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Fall is the best month to plant trees and shrubs
By Ted Wynne
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While driving around Newton County this summer, no matter how short the drive, anyone can see a dead tree or shrub in many yards. It would stand to reason they died from dry weather seeing how dry this summer has been. Some would also think the high temperatures were the cause of mortality.

Upon closer inspection, insects and root diseases have been the main causes. Some beetles like dry weather and will attack seemingly healthy trees and shrubs. If disease was the primary cause of death, then we can look back several weeks and find a rainy spell that created favorable conditions.

Let’s think back to last October when we received 14 days of rain. Root rot diseases are favored by large amounts of rain with warm temperatures. Last October was unusually warm. Also, if your flower beds around your home are not well drained because of downspouts and air conditioning units emptying too close to your plants, they will become infected.

If your landscape had diseased and dead plants this year, there are some steps you should take before re-planting. First, planting trees and shrubs are best done in the fall and winter months for better survival. Remove all diseased plant tops and roots by working the soil and incorporate some organic matter, but not too much. Reroute water flows coming from downspouts so the soil is not overly wet for prolong periods of time. Perform a soil test with Extension Office to see if plant nutrition is not a contributing factor.

Sub-surface drains can help carry excess water away to other parts of the landscape. Drains are not very easy to install so if you determine a drain system will help, you may want to call a professional installer.

Before you purchase a new replacement tree or shrub, make sure the plant you choose will be the right one for the area. Many times trees and shrubs are planted in the wrong location. For example, crape myrtles are great shrubs but many varieties will outgrow their location. Do a little research and select a variety that will fit the location well after they are mature.

Purchase only healthy trees and shrubs in containers or burlap packing. Take a look at the root system while at the nursery. The roots should have white feeder roots on the outer edge. If the roots are dark colored with no white, small feeder roots, you may want to inspect and choose another one.

If you are unable to plant right away, store your new plants in a shady location and keep them watered every day until you can plant them.

Proper planting depths is a must! Trees and shrubs that are planted too deep or too shallow will sometimes not show symptoms of improper planting for months. Take care in the planting process to do a good job.

Next, apply three inches of mulch on the soil under the plants but not on the trunks to help keep the roots moist, cool and to prevent weeds. Too much mulch on the trunks can cause diseases.

Once planted, watering is important for the first five or six weeks. Don’t over water. Just keep the soil moist to touch. If a berm was built around the trunks to hold water close to the plant, remove berm after a couple of months by leveling away from the trunk. Leaving the berm will cause the soil to stay too wet.

Finally, fertilize after the soil has settled and the roots have become established. It is best to fertilize a fall planted tree or shrub in March of the following year. To help determine how much fertilizer is needed, refer to your UGA Extension soil test results.

If you have questions about your landscape, call or visit the Newton County Extension office at the Newton County Administration Building located at 1113 Usher Street, Covington. You can also call 770-784-2010 or email Ted at