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Thu, Sept. 19

Fall plantings are easy on the gardener's budget

Last week, I told you why fall is my favorite planting time. Remember the bit about warm soils, mild temperatures and increased humidity from occasional rains? All of these seasonal factors contribute to make this the best time for tri-city gardening.

Now here's another reason why fall should be your favorite gardening season: It's kind to your pocket book. No kidding. Garden centers, as well as growers, are clearing out their summer inventory to make room for incoming autumn-colored plants and holiday evergreen selections. Growers can be almost desperate to clear out crops that are "running long" this time of year. I like to take advantage of this situation and negotiate special pricing and terms that cannot be found at other times of the year. This allows me to offer you, the customer, the same quality plant, but at a much reduced price.

Exceptional values can be found on big ticket items like trees, flowering shrubs and other perennials. Plant any of these now and plants will develop root growth through the winter; then watch them grow with vigor come the first of spring. Even fountains and yard art reflect seasonal markdowns, so watch your favorite garden center carefully for sale announcements and scoop up the bargains. You only see this type of sale in the fall.

Labor Day usually marks the start of the fall bargain season. However, my garden center tries to beat others to the punch and begins our sale the last week of August.

The first part of September is the last time to prune and feed most hedges before winter. You want to shape them now so they have time to push a little new growth that has them looking good for your holiday guests. Feed with a "tree and shrub" food and you will end up with a nice looking hedge that will remain lush throughout the winter season.

I have always thought of hedges in three main height categories, tall privacy hedges, head-high hedges and border accent hedges. If you need to block something unsightly or are worried about neighbors peering into your bedroom, then you want a tall privacy hedge. Privacy screens grow solid vegetation 10 to 30 feet high. These plants are large, aggressive and need some room to grow. The shorter plants in this tall category are Leyland pyracantha, red-tipped photinia, and many vines trained to grow up fences and walls. The really big specimens come from the cypress, cedar, pine and juniper families. Spacing varies on these plants, so ask your local nursery professional for advice on specific varieties, or shoot me an e-mail through wattersonline.com.

The head-high hedge varieties grow in the 4 to 10 foot range and can easily be shaped with twice-a-year hedging. Local plant choices include cotoneaster, evergreen euonymous, hedge roses, privet and the larger shrub junipers. All are hardy and fast growing, but not as aggressive as the privacy group of plants.

Expect heights of 2 to 4 feet from border accent hedges. The classic English garden choice is the evergreen boxwood, which keeps its shape with little maintenance. Because deer and rabbits leave this one alone, it's a good choice for the wilder parts of our area. There are many more choices that hedge well and are strong growers at this altitude. Heavenly bamboo, carpet roses, compact euonymous, spreading yew, and magic berry holly are varieties that you will see when you visit the garden center and ask for a tour of accent hedge plants.

Expert hedgers are plant artisans, but any gardener can take a wild plant shape and tame it to a cleaner, neater, more appealing part of the landscape. Let me give you a few pointers on fall pruning of most evergreen variety of hedges and out-of-bloom hedge roses.

Prune no more than one-third of the foliage back in a given year. If plants have truly gone wild, hedge them back over a two-season period. I've already noticed next spring's flower buds forming, so do not hedge early spring blooming shrubs now because you'll be cutting off those spring flowers. Pruning them now will destroy these buds, and that means limited blooms next spring. If in doubt, bring a sample into your local garden center and ask for the correct pruning times for that plant.

This Saturday you are invited to Watters as we continue hosting our annual "Flutterfly," Bird and Butterfly Festival. Guest speakers will be Eric Moore of Jay's Bird Barn, Bonnie Planter of the Audubon Society, and our resident expert, David Moll. Watch, listen, learn, and enjoy the sight, sounds, and activities throughout the garden center.

For more gardening info, visit wattersonline.com.

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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