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Gardeners are always looking for ways to reduce the stress of spring rush. Tilling gardens, pruning fruit trees, planting vegetables, installing flower beds, and 101 other activities leave little time during the spring season. One way to beat the rush is fall planting of trees and shrubs. Fall planting has long been advocated by nurseries, and research shows it is an excellent way to establish plants.

Plants purchased and planted now have a season's head start on those planted next spring. They have been through the initial survival process and will transplant well to your yard.Think how much less gardening pressure you feel right now - then imagine how people at the nurseries feel. Busy spring Saturdays are successful because of the days and nights worked to get the plants ordered, shipped, unloaded, displayed and sold. Spring leaves nurseries little time to do anything but sell plants. Visit them now for a more leisurely selection process and some excellent advice from a Utah Certified Nurseryman. This training program sponsored by the Utah Association of Nurserymen and Landscape Contractors provides training and standards for member nurseries. Their advice helps you select the best plants and install them correctly.

Soil temperatures favor planting right now. Soil temperatures lag behind air temperatures by several weeks. In the spring, plants are often installed in cold, wet soil, and consequently root growth is minimal. Right now the opposite is true. The soil will stay warm for several weeks or months. Roots on woody plants continue to grow long after the top has gone dormant, and some researchers believe root growth continues all winter. Moderating temperatures and fall rains, with any luck, further reduce stress to the plant as it goes into dormancy.

It is ironic that the most tender part of the plant is the roots. This physiological phenomenon also affects the nursery industry. Overwintering plants in pots means they must be covered with a deep insulating mulch or in some cases covered with insulating foams or other materials. This keeps the root balls from drying out and being exposed to low winter temperatures. This is an additional expense that nurseries would prefer to avoid, so bargains are often available right now.

Choose plant materials carefully. Even though planting weather is ideal and you may find a bargain, it is no bargain if it is not the plant that you want. The selection is probably not as great as it was earlier in the spring, but there are still plenty of plants to choose from.

The care you give the plant is probably the most important factor in determining long-term survival. Plants in the nursery have had water, sunlight and fertilizer all during the growing season. Provide ideal conditions, and plants will adapt to your yard and become long-term landscape additions.

Planting techniques have always been controversial. There are dozens of recipes and ideas, but common sense prevails over any "recipe." Prepare planting holes by digging a hole wider, but not deeper, than the container or root ball. For many years researchers advocated digging holes deeper than the root ball and backfilling. This is an ineffective method, as the soil always settles and the tree sinks below the correct planting depth. In most cases leave the soil underneath the root ball undisturbed. Spend your time and effort digging the hole at least a couple of times wider than the root ball and removing trash, debris or other materials.

Soil amendments are also controversial. If you have good, high quality topsoil, there is not much need to try and improve it. If your soil is less than adequate, choose your soil amendments carefully. Amend heavy clay soils with small amounts of coarse organic matter to improve the soil granulation, drainage and aeration. Peat moss is not satisfactory, as it holds water even better than the heavy, clay soil. Peat moss is an excellent amendment for sandy soils, as are other composted bark products available at local nurseries. Water the trees well but don't keep them constantly wet. Fertilizing at this time of year is not needed or recommended, as the top of the tree is not growing.

Do yourself and your garden a favor by selecting and planting trees and shrubs right now. They will appreciate the smooth transition to your garden and you will enjoy those tasks at a more leisurely pace this fall rather than waiting for the frantic rush next spring.

Plant a family tree is a way to plant trees now, save money, and contribute to Tree Utah. Details are available at all participating nurseries.

- RED BUTTE GARDEN AND ARBORETUM 4th Annual Autumn Festival and Harvest Sale, is Saturday, Sept. 26, 2-6 p.m. Craft items will be on sale, as will bulbs, herbs, pansies and perennials. Admission fee is $2. Patrons are urged to bring a picnic lunch and blankets. For more information call the Red Butte Garden Information Hotline at 581-IRIS (4747).