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Fall planting: Four hot tips to help you plan

Yeehah! It's fall planting season! Or at least it's fall BUYING season; the time when you buy the plants for fall planting. This is always an exciting time... choosing the plants and shrubs that will give you so much pleasure next season and for many seasons to come. So much to think about! So much to choose from! Don't let it get you down. This is meant to be fun, remember? To make your fall planting plans a little easier, I'm giving you a list of four pointers to help you choose the plants that are right for you and your landscape.

1. Budget. Before you start shopping for your fall planting, try to get at least a rough budget in your mind: a dollar amount that should be sufficient to get the job done without over-reaching your resources. If this is the first year (or the first in quite a while) that you will be making a real effort to add to your landscape you will need to be looking at spending towards the top limit of your budget. "Maintenance" years – replacing, filling in, adding – will obviously make a much smaller dent in your piggy bank. A good tip from professional landscapers: Select a small number of extravagant plants and fill in with more economical varieties such as Fountain grass (Pennisetum alopecuroides), a showy ornamental grass with rose-colored flower spikes, that can cover a fairly large area at a reasonably low price.

 2. Growing conditions. First of all, be aware of where you are in the plant hardiness zone map. This map consists of eleven zones in the United States showing different climate conditions. This will help you select plants that are most likely to thrive in your area.  I know that many people are disappointed when they have their heart set on a particular plant but it fails to do well once it has been added to their landscape. In all probability, the conditions just weren't suitable. First of all, get to know your soil type! You can read articles devoted to this subject at my web site www.landsteward.org where you can find archived columns under "The Plant Man" heading. If a plant prefers, say, slightly acidic sandy soil and your landscape consists of slightly alkaline clay soil, the plant is unlikely to thrive without quite a bit of work on your part.

3. Ease of Care. The choice is yours. For some people, there is nothing more satisfying than getting soil under their fingernails. But for others, the pleasure is in simply looking at their trees and shrubs without investing a great deal of time in "plant maintenance". So which one are you? If you're a member of the low-maintenance club, consider some crabapple trees. Look for varieties such as Robinson, Spring Snow and Centurion. If you're looking for an easy-care but attractive backdrop for perennials, you should try Lady Fern (Athyrium felix-feminand) or Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis). And if you're looking for hardy plants that don't require a lot of TLC, there's always ivy, forsythia and Arnold's Red Honeysuckle.

4. Scale. If you have ever visited any of the world's great gardens, you might have been struck by an impression that every tree and every shrub seemed to be perfectly suited to the location in which it was planted. It's a matter of scale. Simply put, a small lot will be overpowered by one or two vast oak trees, whereas a wide-open and flat terrain will look even wider open and flatter when adorned with dozens of small, spindly trees or shrubs that have been widely spaced.

Objective: pick trees and shrubs that will suit the scale of your landscape. For example. An excellent choice for a small yard or garden would be the "Forest Pansy" Red Bud. It's a spectacular ornamental tree that rarely grows taller than about twenty feet. You also need to think "scale" when planning the juxtaposition of different plants.

You'll want to select taller plants for the rear of a bed, perhaps close to a wall or fence, scaling down to smaller plants in the foreground. And don't forget to have FUN!



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