When the Hall County Gardeners presented their fall symposium, the group included local gardener Nathan Wilson in the program. Wilson, operator of Lanier Nursery and Gardens, is familiar with gardening in North Georgia.
Although January and February bring temperatures that discourage work in the landscape, these ‘deep winter’ months offer many opportunities to start and/or improve your gardens for 2023.
When shrubs and trees are dormant, this is the best time to install them in the landscape.
First, they can better develop their root system when foliage isn’t competing for energy.
Second, the need for water is reduced; Yes, you still need to water, but the colder temperatures reduce evaporation, so you need to water less frequently.
Third, the plants have a chance to settle in before being exposed to the higher summer temperatures.
“These are all good reasons to take advantage of winter plantings,” Wilson said. “Bundle up when you first get outside, but you’ll soon find you’re generating enough heat to shed some of those layers. And it’s a great way to get off the couch and get some exercise.”
Wilson has broken down home garden success into three simple steps: design, proper planting, and care.
Here are his suggestions:
design involves several aspects including plant selection, location and light. “Choose plants that are native to our area and, if necessary, look for a combination of foliage and flower colors that appeals to you,” he said. “Contrasting colors give a big bang for your buck, but also consider plants of different sizes, shapes and textures.”
Placement. Make sure you place the plants in the best spots for future growth. “A beautiful native serviceberry tree that you bring home from the nursery will grow, so choose a location that allows for that. Don’t overload these additions to your landscape. Read plant labels and do online research to learn more about them.”
Light is crucial. Pay attention to optimal lighting conditions, especially in summer. Here, too, the plant labels provide good information.
When planting, it is important to dig the right size hole. Dig the hole 2 to 3 times wider than the diameter of the root ball or pot. The depth should be about the height of the root ball or soil level in the pot.
“Planting too deep can be detrimental and obscure vital feeder roots at the surface,” Wilson said. “Once the hole is dug, add some soft soil back to the bottom so that the bottom of the plant is half an inch to an inch above the ground. This allows for weaning and helps the plant have better access to nutrients and water as it grows.
Break up any lumps before refilling the hole. “When planting trees and shrubs, soft soil out of the hole is better than adding changes to encourage roots to grow back out of the root ball and into the surrounding soil,” he said.
Maintenance. It will keep your trees and shrubs happy and healthy.
“Once the shrub is established, usually within the first six to nine months of planting, water intelligently,” he said. “Check soil moisture before indiscriminate watering. And when you water, water deeply, but infrequently. Frequent, shallow watering prevents deep root growth.”
Pruning should be done when the plant is actively growing to allow the cuts to heal properly. “Also, use selective pruning instead of hedging, making random cuts at different levels within the plant. Hedges result in poor plant health as they restrict airflow and can stress the shrub or tree. A good guideline is never to prune more than a quarter of the growth in a season.”
Mulch can be your friend. “A 2-inch layer of mulch kept at least 2 inches from the trunk can help retain moisture, deter weeds, and build up organic matter in the soil.”
For more information on native plants and appropriate gardening techniques, visit Lanier Nursery and Gardens at 4195 Schubert Rd. in Flowery Branch, visit their website at www.laniernurserygardens.com or call 470 290-5405.
Photo: by Pamela A. Keene