By Missy Hodgin
Texas AgriLife Agent
Fall is here! The cooler temperatures and rain have definitely been a welcome change from the hot, dry summer. For gardeners and landscape enthusiasts, fall is a great time to plant trees and shrubs and treat for unwanted pests such as winter weeds and fire ants.
Many people may prefer January through March for planting, but the fall months of September through December have distinct advantages. Fall planting follows the heat of summer before a cool winter season; trees and shrubs planted in fall use this to a good advantage. Plant roots grow anytime the soil temperature is 40 degrees or higher, which may occur all winter in Texas. During the winter months, the root systems of fall-planted specimens develop and become established. When spring arrives, this expanded root system can support and take advantage of the fall surge of spring growth. Remember, however, all bare root plants, including roses and pecan and fruit trees, should be planted in late winter when they are completely dormant.
When buying plants for your landscape, be sure to get healthy, well-grown plants. Always buy from a reputable dealer and beware of plant bargains. The price tag, especially the cheapest one, is not the best guide to quality.
Fall is also a good time to prune out dead or diseased wood from trees and shrubs. However, hold off on major pruning until midwinter. Pruning now may stimulate tender growth prior to frost.
Winter weeds, like henbit, chickweed and annual bluegrass (Poa annua), may seem a long way off, but late summer to early fall is the best time to apply pre-emergent herbicides to lawns before weed seeds begin to germinate. Don’t wait for the weather to cool off before controlling winter weeds; by then it is too late. One reason pre-emergent herbicides fail to work is because they are not watered in after being applied. Water lawns immediately or at least within a day of applying the herbicide to allow the chemical to soak in, applying about one-half inch of water. Before buying a pre-emergent herbicide, read the label to determine if the material is appropriate for the type of grass to be treated.
For annual winter broadleaf weeds that have already emerged, apply a post-emergent herbicide for that type of weed. Allow the post-emergent material to dry on the foliage for about two days before mowing. The best time to treat for emerged winter broadleaf weeds is in the fall and early winter while the weeds are young and actively growing. Do not wait until spring to apply the herbicide because by then, the weeds will be mature and difficult to control.
Fire ants are one of the most prevalent and least popular insects in the state. Most people only treat for them in the spring, but it is equally important to control them in the fall to keep them from returning in the spring. And just because fire ants may have gone underground during the drought to escape does not mean they are gone. They will return to the surface as more rain is received.
Treating in the fall will also help reduce the fire ant population. Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service recommends the “Texas Two-Step” approach to fire ant control. The first step involves broadcasting fire ant bait over an entire yard, using a hand-held seed spreader or a larger spreader for more spacious yards and landscapes. Broadcasting will typically take care of 80 to 90 percent of the mounds, and then the remaining mounds will need to be treated. The second step of the process involves applying bait to individual mounds. It is best to apply bait during temperatures between 65 and 95 degrees. And always remember to read and follow pesticide label instructions.
For more information about these topics contact the AgriLife Extension office, Clay County at (940) 538-5042.