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Sun, Feb. 23

The fall planting season begins

Last weekend’s Hummingbird Festival was more fun than I had envisioned! More than 600 people came out to hear growers’ planting techniques that best attract hummingbirds and to learn from Prescott’s bird authorities how to promote proper bird health and to see their examples of the best bird feeders.

My thanks go out to all those behind-the-scene folks who helped put together this event. Special thanks to Bonnie Pranter from the Audubon Society, and to The Gadabouts, a local band that creates sounds that are a real listening pleasure.

Ready … GO! Labor Day weekend begins the tri-city fall planting season. The next six weeks of planting are crucial if you want to maintain a colorful, vibrant yard/garden through April of next year. If done right, you’ll be rewarded with terrific results in the months ahead. Also, if done right, it reduces the urge to run out at the first sign of warm weather next spring to get baby plants for color because you’ll already have them planted and looking great!

First let’s talk flowers and vegetables. September is the month to remove those plants that look kind of tired or downright bad. Replace them with cool-season flowers such as pansies, snapdragons, dusty miller, violas, mums, etc. Remember that in a couple of months frost will have bumped off or forced into dormancy any heat-loving bloomers still showing color. That same chilly weather will act as a tonic for all the fall flowers mentioned above and encourage their glorious blooms!

This month is the time to pull out sick-looking tomato plants as well as harvested spots in the garden. Fill in those vacancies with broccoli, cauliflower, lettuce, Brussels sprouts and onions. They root quickly and mature into that holiday harvest I mentioned last week.

I have waited until late October and November to plant these cool-loving flowers and vegetables only to watch them remain their original size until March. It’s all in the timing; and September seems to be the magic month.

As we head into my favorite time of year, nurseries are fully stocked with red burning bush, flame and autumn blaze maples. These simply stunning shrubs and trees do best when included in September planting. I’m always amazed at how little loss there is with plants put into the ground in fall.

Here are some tips for you gardeners new to our area. When planting trees and shrubs, dig the hole the same depth as the root ball but 3 times the width. (Roots run horizontally just under the soil’s surface, not vertically.) Use plenty of mulch blended with the native soil to loosen the soil so that the roots can go easily on their horizontal way.

Be sure to stake your newly-planted trees. The first snows of the season are wet and heavy and will snap off limbs on trees unless they are staked. Even evergreens such as spruce and pine will load up with snow and lean over in their holes. Spring winds are brutal to newly-emerging foliage, and stakes help to support new branch formation.

Remember to water in mid winter! Midwestern gardeners turn off the irrigation the first of November and don’t think to water again until April. That is a sure way to gardening disaster at this altitude. Around Thanksgiving, you can turn off the irrigation system; but you should run each value manually twice a month. Plants get into trouble when they are dry and go through a cold cycle. That’s when plants’ tops and tips burn off the following spring. If you know that night temperatures are going to dip to the low teens or single digits, water your plants and they’ll experience less damage.

The past two weeks have been warm enough that I set my system’s clock to water the trees and shrubs for three hours, once a week. The lawn, perennials, and flower beds are set to come on twice a week for 20 minutes. This schedule should take us well into November, when I’ll drain the systems and cut watering to the twice-a-month schedule.

Keep in mind that the described water schedule is for my yard. Our mountain soils vary so much that you will have to make slight adjustments depending on the needs of the soil in your yard.

Winterizer plant food is now available at plant centers because the fall feeding is the most important for everything in the yard. The first sign of fall color on local trees and shrubs is your signal to apply Winterizer plant food. Our Southwestern soils need a plant food formula that promotes starches to store up in root structures of trees, shrubs, roses, and other perennials. My garden center has a Winterizer with a 10-0-14 analysis with ammonium nitrate as a main ingredient. This is the formulation that’s right for the tri-city gardener.

Beginning Labor Day weekend, local garden centers will be carrying a lot of new inventory, much of it on sale. The first three weekends in September, centers have the highest customer counts of the year, with most of the energy and excitement on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. While it’s exhilarating to be part of the weekend hubbub, the best days to shop are Wednesdays and Thursdays. The centers aren’t crowded, so it’s easier to navigate between displays of inventory that have been restocked for the coming weekend. The best selections are just waiting for you to make your choices … hassle-free!

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.

Ken Lain is the owner of Watters Home and Garden Center and is an Arizona Certified Nursery Professional and Master Gardener.

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