Use the autumn to plant ornamentals

Fall is the time to plant ornamentals. The weather is cooler and the tops of the plants are starting to slow their growth, yet the roots are still somewhat active. Therefore, when spring arrives the plants should have established a good root system and will be ready to bud.


Knowing a little about the plants you are purchasing will save you big in the long run. Take a picture of the tag and do some research before buying it.

Check your shade tolerances on plants. Traditional camellias (Camellia Japonica) can’t usually tolerate blazing hot sun, while sasanqua camellias will do a lot better in high sun areas. Mophead hydrangeas (Hydrangea macrophylla) need a good bit of shade, while limelight hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata) can take full sun.

Many times, success lies in choosing the right variation of the plant. Just because you are dying to get one in your yard doesn’t mean you have the right sun for the plant. Drought tolerance is another thing to consider. If you don’t have an irrigation system and aren’t apt to dragging hoses, don’t plant things that will need a good bit of moisture.

There are several things to consider when selecting plants for fall planting. Always start with a plan for what type of plant you choose and where you want to place the new additions to your landscape. Massing shrubs in odd numbers is a great way to cover an area and have a uniformed look. Adding a variety of massed plants by mixing textures, shapes and colors makes for good contrast. For instance, fatsia is a shade-loving shrub with a large, shiny, lime-green leaf that can grow to 8 feet high and 8 feet wide. It is a great plant to put in the background, in a corner and plant other types of shrubs in front of it.

Try something like forsythia, spirea, or abelia as the next layer. These upright plants have a smaller leaf, different growth form, and a variety of bloom to contrast the large leaf of the evergreen fatsia. The final front layer should be something that grows lower to the ground. I usually use evergreens in the front. Autumn fern is a fantastic evergreen ground cover for shadier areas. Spreading False Yew (Cephlotaxus) is a great dark, needleleaf evergreen that when massed in front of these other plants adds contrast that would really make an area “pop.” This front area can also be used for perennial flowers or something herbaceous such as hostas.

Leyland Cypress, Bradford Pear and Silver Maples can be decent trees, but there are better longer-lasting options. If you need a tree with some height, look to order one from someone with a wholesaler’s license.

Know how to plant. Dig a wide hole, not a deep one. Take the plant out of the container and massage the roots to where they are looser and put the plant to where the base of the trunk is about 1 inch above ground level. Spread the dirt back over the area, being careful not to get the dirt on the base of the plant. If you use mulch, try not to pile it on the plant base. When there is dirt or mulch on the base, it puts added moisture on the woody base where the plant can either start to rot, disease, or even start sprouting another unwanted root system. Keep your fall plantings moist, but not wet.

Another reason fall plantings don’t do well is too much water. These plants are growing slowly, so they don’t need as much water. Also, cooler weather means less evaporation. Moist is good, soaked is not.



Applying pre-emergence to help prevent weeds in the winter and keep them from taking over in the spring. If the label says you can, add pre-emergence over the tops of your ornamentals with products
such as Preen. I have seen dramatic differences in weed control in ornamental beds with regular applications.

Getting a soil sample. Soil samples tell what types of fertilizers and lime need to be added so your landscape will grow the way it needs to. For help with soil sampling, go to and search for “Soil Samples.” Take the samples to the Richmond County Extension office (602 Greene St.) or the Columbia County office (6420 Pollards Pond Road, Appling). We also process samples from areas in South Carolina.