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Fri, Feb. 28

My most successful plantings of the year

The trees in our area are into their two-month wave of red leaf colors. The show started with the spectacular red of Flame maples, followed by the 40-foot tall Autumn Blaze maples that are now in full color. I've noticed the Raywood ash beginning to turn in Prescott Valley, so watch for it to be the next tree to take center stage in our fall show.

The changing leaf expo peaks just before Thanksgiving when the Bradford flowering pear, Pyrus calleryana, the last tree to turn red, treats us to the very brightest and showiest of fall colors. Even the bark has an interesting light gray color and texture that enhances this tree through its dormancy. I firmly believe that every landscape should have a Bradford pear.

This week my answer to the question most frequently put to me has been: "Yes, my most successful plantings are begun at this time of year because fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs!" There is a misconception that the cold of January is every garden's nemesis. To the contrary, at this altitude cold is not the gardener's enemy; that distinction goes to the heat of June. That's when mountain air humidity is so low it can be read in single digits. Partnered with an unrelenting Southwest wind and outside temperatures in the 90s, the earth becomes parched. These conditions can cause plants to dry out fast and result in many failed spring plantings.

The reason fall planting leads to successful spring growth is that gardening success in the mountains is all about roots. The more roots the plant has underneath it in June the greater its chance of thriving. Consequently, the more weeks or months of growing you can put under your plants before summer's heat begins in June the better your planting success. That dormant plant sticking out above a light blanket of snow is busy growing an extensive root system. This is why I stress planting now.

Keep in mind that plants put into the ground at this time will need to be irrigated at least twice a month through March. Because our winters can be dry and that Southwest wind can be deadly, new plants must be watered regularly throughout the cold months. I like to pick a couple of sunny days in each winter month to water my entire landscape. Based on my experience I'm sure that with this watering pattern your plants, too, will have more growth next spring.

Be sure that everything planted outdoors has been given its winter feeding by now. For years I have been recommending the use of Fertilome's "Winterizer." It is great for trees and shrubs, but it also can be used on lawns. It does wonders for dormant perennials and evergreen plants as well. This is important for spring bloomers like lilac and forsythia.

It's hard to believe that Halloween is behind us for another year and that Election Day is just hours away. I always enjoy November because it ushers in a month of work that transforms our garden center store into a Christmas and winter shopper's ultimate destination. My wife takes care of the beautiful gift-y Christmas stuff and I focus on the plants of the season. My responsibility is our poinsettia and Christmas cactus crops that I grow on 30 acres in Cottonwood. Already the holiday plants are showing color in the greenhouses; and, if I'm reading the plants right, it's only a couple of weeks until the first crop is ready to harvest. Even after many years in the business this still is exciting stuff for me!

This year's "Winter Wonderland" will be unveiled Nov. 16-17 at the Garden Center. This year's Christmas shop blends ornaments, plants, and garden gifts into an experience guaranteed to delight the senses. Even the new greenhouses in back have been converted into the largest holiday shop in our experience. If you love the holidays, love gardening and love combining the two, then you are in for a treat. I will be there to answer gardening questions, show off the latest fall plants, and just hobnob with shoppers. I especially would enjoy meeting and greeting my garden column readers.

Until next week, I'll see you in the Garden Center.

Ken Lain, owner of Watters Garden Center in Prescott, is a master gardener and certified nursery professional.

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