FREE PRESS FALL HOME IMPROVEMENT: Fall a good time to address landscaping issues

If the cool September days-with mums bursting with color and trees ready to begin their fall show-are giving you the urge to plant something in your yard, go ahead and put on your gardening gloves.

Landscaping experts say fall is a great time for planting, and it actually gives plants a jump start for the next year.

“There are several advantages to planting in the fall,” said Scott Vogt, horticulturist and grounds manager at the Dyck Arboretum of the Plains in Hesston.

“The soil temperature is still warm,” he said. “We’re getting some rains now, so the root growth will continue until the ground freezes, which could be December or January. That leads to a bigger, healthier plant the next year which will actually bloom for you the first year.”

Water conservation is another advantage of planting in the fall, he said.

“It takes a lot of water in the springtime to get those plants going because the temperature is warming up,” said Vogt.

The key to planting in the fall is giving the plant enough time to get established, he said.

“That usually takes two to three weeks,” he said. “I generally don’t like to plant anything later than the end of September. Soil temperature starts dropping off rather rapidly after that.

“You want to try to get as much root growth while the soil temperature is above 60 degrees. The plants will still continue to root in, but they really thrive on the warm days of September.”

Sharon Boese, owner of the Garden Center in Hillsboro, said, “Fall is a good time to plant most varieties. They’ll just take off and grow better for you in the spring.”

But she cautions fall gardeners not to forget about the new plants during the winter months.

“The thing that people sometimes forget is that if we have a dry, warm winter, then new plants do need to be watered,” Boese said.

“I know nobody wants to get their hoses out then,” she added with a laugh.

In addition to protecting new plants from environmental stress, growers must also protect them from critters that might damage them.

“In the winter it’s more important to protect the plants from rabbits,” she said. “They can be a real problem then.”

Choosing the right plant

With so many plant varieties to choose from, deciding what to plant can be a daunting task.

Boese recommends that consumers seek assistance from a professional landscaper or gardening center.

“They can offer information, advice and generally more knowledge,” she said.

Part of the advice they can give is what will grow well in this part of Kansas and in the specific conditions presented by your yard.

“What grows well in Kansas is pretty diversified-what grows well in one area doesn’t always grow well in the other,” Boese said.

“Most of the things we carry are things that would do well for this area. We can also tell people who have a sheltered courtyard there might be some things they can grow that somebody that’s in the wide open can’t.”

In determining what type of trees grow best here, Boese uses a list of approved deciduous trees published by the Kansas Urban Forestry Council titled “Preferred Tree Species for South Central Kansas”

This is the same list used by the Hillsboro Tree Board as part of its “Let’s Plant Trees in Hillsboro” program.

The Tree Board is a city-sponsored organization responsible for educating the public, supporting the planting of trees and monitoring trees in the city.

“For quite a few years, we’ve subsidized tree sales for approved trees, and each residence can get two $25 coupons per year,” said Paul Jantzen, a long-time Tree Board member.

“Each coupon is for $25 toward the purchase of a single tree, assuming it’s of a species we recommend.”

Jantzen said as part of the board’s monitoring efforts, the trees in the city are surveyed. Through those surveys, the board occasionally finds that a particular type of tree is over planted, and that tree is removed from the approved list.

“If you have too many trees of one type-like we did of elms for a long time-a disease or insect infestation can wipe out many trees of that species,” he said. “So we discourage over-planting of any one kind.

“For example, several years ago people were planting more silver maples than we felt we should have in town, so we don’t subsidize those any more,” Jantzen said.

The growing characteristics of a particular tree may also make it a poor choice for planting, said Sharon Boese.

“We all want fast-growing trees for instant shade, and sometimes those are not the ones that have the more desirable characteristics,” she said.

“For example, the Tree Board and the Forestry Council said they wanted people to stay away from the Bradford Pear.”

She said Bradford Pears have more trouble with crotch angles breaking on them as they age.

“There are many other ornamental pear varieties that you can use, but stay away from the Bradford Pear,” she said.

Landscaping trends

Trends in landscaping emerge as a particular plant variety or type of landscaping becomes popular.

“I think people are becoming more concerned with color right now,” Boese said. “In general, they want to have more blooming kinds of things and are even mixing more perennials in with their shrub borders.

“I think there is also still is a trend for low maintenance,” she said, “because people have very busy lives.”

At Dyck Arboretum, Vogt said they have noticed a growing interest in native plants.

“A native plant to the Great Plains would be one of the original plants here before European settlement,” he said. “Prairie plants would be native plants because they weren’t imported in when the Europeans started settling this area.”

He said the native plants offer an alternative to people who are “tired of maintaining their annuals and watering them all the time.

“Native plants are adapted to our climate-they are able to withstand the drought, the heat, the cold temperatures, and the temperature fluctuations,” he said.

“And they require very little input on our part as far as water, fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides.”

High demand for the plants, coupled with difficulty in finding them at garden stores, led the Arboretum to offer native plants for sale in the spring and fall.

“Our plant sale here just continues to grow each year which is a testament to the plants’ resiliency,” Vogt said. “We have over 100 different varieties of wildflowers for sale.”

He said native plants can be worked into a landscape just like the more traditional annuals and perennials.

“Through our demonstration gardens and landscaping classes here, we try to teach people that native plants are a good alternative to the non native plants,” he said.

“If people are interested in native plants or want more information, they can access our web site at,” Vogt added.

“It gives people a look at native plants that’s hard to come by.”

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