5 Gardening Mistakes to Avoid This Fall

October 13, 2013 | By | Comments (66)
Garden mistakes

Fall is excellent for planting, as long as you start with good plants. Photo: Steve Bender

Fall is the best time for planting almost any hardy plant. The weather feels great and plants aren’t stressed by heat and drought. But before you fill up your 1978 Ford Torino station wagon featuring faux wood siding with every green thing you find at the garden center, make sure you DON’T DO these five things.

Mistake #1 — Paying Top Dollar For Leftovers
Would you pay the same for week-old bread as you would for fresh-baked? (If so, I have some lovely loaves covered with blue and green mold I’ll be happy to sell you.Visa only.) Plants that have been sitting out in the heat, wind, and pathogen-infested air since springtime aren’t worth what they first were. So only buy them at a steep discount. Why pay full price for a zombie perennial the garden center’s going to throw out in a month?

Mistake #2 — Bringing Home Unwanted Guests
What’s the unhealthiest place for your family? Your local hospital, because it’s crawling with sick people.Yuck! Likewise, the unhealthiest place for plants is the local garden center. So many plants crammed close together makes an ideal breeding ground for insects and disease. So thoroughly examine the foliage and stems of any plant you buy now — especially houseplants — to ensure whiteflies, mites, and mildew aren’t hitching a ride. Consider spraying each new purchase according to label directions with horticultural oil to safely dispatch any unseen freeloaders as soon as you get home.

Mistake #3 — Buying Balled-and-Burlapped Trees
Unlike container grown trees whose roots grow undisturbed in pots, balled-and-burlapped trees are dug from the field and their rootballs wrapped in burlap to hold them together. Problem is, this often cuts off most of the roots. If they survive, balled-and-burlapped trees just sit there for a couple of years after planting as they regrow their roots. Container-grown trees come with all of their roots and grow much faster after planting.

Mistake #4 — Buying Semi-Tropical Plants That Won’t Take Cold
Can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen garden centers in states that have cold winters get in big fall shipments of Chinese hibiscus, mandevilla vines, passion vines, and princess flower in full, glorious bloom. This means that unless you plan on growing these exotic beauties as houseplants, you have about a month to enjoy them before a hard frost comes along and kills them.

Mistake #5 — Waiting Too Late to Buy Spring Bulbs
Unlike fine wine, daffodil and tulip bulbs don’t get better with age — at least not in the garden center. They get moldy and dry up. The best time to buy is when they first arrive, so you won’t be stuck with sorry, picked-over bulbs that may not bloom. October and November are the best months to plant. Hop to it!


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  2. Steve Bender


    Sorry to give you bad news, but I doubt if the hosta will come back.

    October 22, 2013 at 2:35 pm
  3. Mary J

    I appreciate your advice. I wish you had a website that offered more. I could have used this knowledge before planting several shrubs that are taking over the landscape, such as privet.

    Mary J.

    October 22, 2013 at 9:42 am
  4. plants vs zombies

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    October 18, 2013 at 1:04 pm
  5. Southern Living Article Stirs Garden Retailers’ Ire | Today's Garden Center

    […] heated comments from independent garden center owners and managers when he posted an article titled, “5 Gardening Mistakes To Avoid This Fall” in his blog, “The Daily South.” In the statement that retailers responded most […]

    October 17, 2013 at 3:19 pm
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    October 17, 2013 at 8:00 am
  7. Steve Mercer

    The truth of the matter Hunter, is that the person that is responsible for planting the tree needs proper training in how to plant trees. The 20 minutes it takes to plant the average tree will determine whether the tree lives a long and healthy life or only lives a third of it’s life spand before perishing. That holds true for both B&B AND container trees! EVERY tree should be checked for the location of the tree’s flare roots before the hole is dug for the tree. If a tree is planted to deep in it’s shipping container, any roots above the flare roots must be pruned off or the life of the tree will be reduced by one third or more. Circling roots (problems found in containers mostly) also have to be dealt with by rerouting or by pruning. One B&B trees no wire or burlap should be left on the tree ball. (there is a strict procedure for removing the wire and burlap though- do NOT cut all of the wire and burlap off and then put the tree in the planting pit. If a tree is worth planting, it is worth staking… not exceptions! A properly planted tree planted at the correct time of the year, in the proper site and not planted in a drought weather condition should only need to be watered twice and the tree will establish itself.

    October 16, 2013 at 9:54 pm
  8. Amber

    Dag Grump! You have struck a major chord with folks on this one. Did I miss something? I thought the article was helpful, to the point and simple. I believe the ole saying ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ definitely applies here….
    Speaking of moles – if those little rascals take my hosta down with them, any chance the plant will return next year?
    peace love & happiness

    October 16, 2013 at 8:34 pm
  9. Colin McKnight

    As a non-garden center person, I did not read the post looking for or expecting insults. The information I derived from the message was: 1) Fall is a great time to plant, but make sure you are planting the right plant; 2) If you see a tropical on sale in the fall, consider carefully how you are going to use it- either as a houseplant or as compost within a month; 3) check what you buy carefully to make sure that it’s pest-free and healthy. Simple take aways. As a customer of independent garden centers for the most part (and farmers markets), I didn’t read the article as an attack. Having once bought an infested pepperomia in the fall that resulted in the loss of a fairly large collection of houseplants, I appreciate the fact that someone is warning the public to look over any purchases carefully, no matter where they are purchased. It’s also a reminder to myself that I need to check my houseplants carefully for pests before bringing them inside before the frost.

    October 16, 2013 at 4:28 pm
  10. Hunter Ten Broeck

    Whether container or B&B there are lot of problems with a large portion of nursery stock. Many are ‘buried’ too deep in the container and have circling roots that can doom a tree if not dealt with at planting time.. It is best to check stock of any kind before buying and make sure it has a good central leader and is in good health. Hunter

    October 16, 2013 at 2:58 pm
  11. Dea

    We’re planting a six-inch live oak this fall (early November). We’re blessed to live on the Texas Gulf Coast, near the home of Environmental Design, the tree planters and movers who did the work at Ground Zero in New York. They deliver the tree fresh dug from the ground, on a big truck, and plunk it back into a prepared hole before it has a chance to even realize it’s been moved. This will be our second tree from Environmental Design. The first, a nice full willow oak, is shading the south side of our house right now. It never even went into distress, much less shock, when they planted it. And it grew something like four feet the first year. (While the B&B live oak the builders put out in our front yard took nearly five years to get over the shock of being moved! We actually had an arborist look it over and make some recommendations to get it going.)

    October 16, 2013 at 2:56 pm
  12. Steve Bender

    I will post a follow-up on Thursday to clarify my position on independent garden centers vs big box stores. In the meantime, you might want to check about the poll I did yesterday on my Grumpy Gardener FB page where I asked readers where they shopped for plants — independent garden centers or big box stores and why? You’ll find the responses interesting. Today, I’m asking them to name their favorite independent in their area.

    October 16, 2013 at 5:40 am
  13. Commercial tree service

    Fall IS an excellent time for planting, as we well know here. So many homeowners, too, want to plant exotic plants and just don’t get it when we advise them not to, because winter will knock ’em dead. It’s important to know the facts. Nice article.

    October 15, 2013 at 4:31 pm
  14. Steve Mercer

    Steve you just keep digging a deeper hole for yourself. There is an old saying we have here in Kentucky, “You catch more flies with sugar than you do with salt.” Peace be with you!

    October 15, 2013 at 3:38 pm
  15. Steve Bender

    Notice to Commentors: To show that I can take the heat and answer for what I’ve written, I’ve purposely left up many negative (and sometimes slanderous) comments. But enough is enough. Any future comments that do little more than call names, hurl insults, and accuse me of working for Home Depot will be promptly deleted. So don’t waste your time.

    October 15, 2013 at 9:04 am
  16. Steve Bender

    To answer your questions about the tree I bought, it was in a container. When I said I preferred container tree, I meant it. Sorry if that threatens any of you who feel your business is on the brink now because of a single post on a single blog on a single day. Instead of wasting all your energy waging a war with the big boxes that you can’t win, you would be better served channeling that energy into finding creative ways to provide plants, products, and services that the big boxes don’t so that everybody wins. My readers aren’t a party to your war. They don’t care about it. All they want is a good plant for a good price. If you can provide that, you will survive. If you can’t, stop blaming your troubles on everyone else.

    October 15, 2013 at 4:39 am

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