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Gardeners ready to dig in

By Diane Wagner

As the last of the vegetable plants are giving up their bounty and petals are falling from bright summer flowers, master gardener Susan Formby is gearing up for one of her favorite times of the year.

"A lot of people know to go to the nursery in the spring, but the fall is actually the best time to plant," she said. "This is prime garden-time."

Ed Coughlin of Walnut Creek Nursery said late September is the ideal time to plant chrysanthemums, pansies and other cool season annuals that add color to fall gardens. September and October are also when trees, shrubs and perennials should be put into the ground.

Coughlin shared his expertise, and gardening jokes, with an audience of about 40 avid growers who gathered last week to hear of the benefits of fall planting. The story about a woman who recently brought a brownish hydrangea plant in for a diagnosis elicited more than a few chuckles.

"Well, it's dead now because you pulled it out of the ground, I told her," Coughlin said. "It's natural for plants to change colors this time of year, to slow down and take in nutrients. That dormant plant, don't worry about it. It's got energy stored inside it."

At a Lunch and Learn class hosted by the Henry County Extension Service, Pamela White of ALH Nursery prepared gardeners for the upcoming season by demonstrating the proper way to plant a tree.

The most common mistake is failing to consider the tree's mature size. The diameter of the planting hole should be at least three times the diameter of the root ball, and the soil should be tilled or broken up over the entire planting site to encourage root growth when the tree "wakes up" in the spring.

Elizabeth Mathis, agricultural program assistant, said the Extension Service's next offering is a free lunchtime class on growing roses. To register for the Oct. 14 brown-bag session, call (770) 954-2060, or visit the Web site at www.co.henry.ga.us/ExtensionService.

The Clayton County Extension Service and its master gardeners also offer free assistance to local enthusiasts. Registration is ongoing for January classes that will range from weed-control in lawns to water-wise landscaping and even beekeeping.

Meanwhile, the group is holding plant sales, seasonals and house plants, on the third Wednesday of each month at the Support Services Greenhouse, 217 Stockbridge Road in Jonesboro.

"A big part of our mission is public education," said T.J. Moseley, a master gardener from Stockbridge.

Moseley said her forte is perennials, with irises being one of her favorite plants. The growing season was tricky this year, she said, because the heavy rain induced more fungi.

"Things that like water did well this year," said J.G. Humphries, who puts her efforts into vegetables. "Green beans and lettuce are doing well, and the tomato vines were OK. But the squirrels got the tomatoes."

Humphries said gardening is a hobby the whole family can enjoy. She and her grandchildren, ages 4 and 5, planted a special section of soybeans this year because of their love for the nutritious pods called edamame.

"They just stuck their little fingers in the ground and dropped in a bean," she said. "Everything came up beautifully. We just boil the edamame in salt water and eat it like that."