Autumn is regarded by those in the gardening and landscape industries as "nature's planting time". The main reason for this is that cooler temperatures help the soil to stay moist after rain and it is far less likely to dry out.
Plants still have time to make good growth before winter arrives; meaning new plants planted now will be established in time to make good progress next spring, and will have better resilience to the potential of a hot, dry summer than those plantings made later in the year.
There are lots of great bulbs, fruits, shrubs and trees that can be planted out now. An attractive weeping tree to consider for your garden is the relatively new release – Cercis Ruby Falls. This tree has a wonderful elegant weeping habit with foliage of ruby red through the summer months. In the early spring before the foliage appears the stems become covered in rose purple blooms. It forms a height of about 2m, spreading to 1.5m wide.
Another great tree and one of my favourites is Liquidambar Gumball. This is a dwarf form of well-known autumn colour liquidambar trees. They often come grafted on a stem so they will form a rounded topiary growing about 2m tall by 1m wide. The maple-like leaves provide a brilliant autumn display of red, gold, orange and purple.
Both the Ruby Falls and the Gumball are well suited to small sections or even large tubs where they will add a great dimension to a garden.
You may think planting is straight forward - dig a hole and bung it in! There are some general rules to give the plants you want to grow the very best start.
When selecting a tree or shrub, first consider the site factors: rainfall, temperature, frost, soil type and drainage. Check that it will flourish where you wish to plant it and cope with the environmental conditions that do prevail at times.
Other factors at your place, such as prevailing winds on exposed hilltop sites or facing a hot northerly aspect, will also influence the choice. Check the soil. Is it sandy, clay, or loam and does it drain freely or hold moisture?
If you live near the coast, choose plants that will stand a regular onslaught of salt-laden winds. If your planting site is particularly dry, either install irrigation, adopt a regular mulching programme and/or choose plants that can survive these conditions.
When purchasing your plants go straight home and don't leave them "cooking" in a hot car while you finish your shopping. Water your plants thoroughly when you get them home and keep them somewhere relatively cool in the shade until you plant them.
The next point may seem obvious but I, too, have been guilty of this: Don't leave the plants in their pots for months until you find that mythical bit of extra time because they may not survive that delay. Plant them now!
Planting trees and shrubs
Select the planting spot. Read the label so you know which conditions - eg sun or shade - the plant prefers, also any other special treatment that may be required.
It is advisable to soak the area the day before planting, ensuring a high soil moisture level for the plants. Improve the soil if necessary. If it is poorly drained you may need to create a raised bed. If poor drainage is because of a clay soil type, applications of gypsum will contribute to improving the friability and structure of clay soil.
Dig a hole that is about the same depth as the pot or container and about twice as wide. Mix in some good-quality compost such as Natural Bark Poultry Compost and long-term fertiliser such as Ican Slow Food.
These provide gentle non-burning nutrients for the roots. Thoroughly water the potted plant again and remove it from the pot. If roots are circling around the outside, loosen them with your fingers.
This will encourage root growth into the surrounding soil rather than roots continuing to twine in a ball, limiting plant growth. However do not apply this practice to avocados, pittosporums or members of the proteace family (proteas, leucadendrons and leucospermums) which are very sensitive to root disturbance and dislike many fertilisers.
Make sure the plant is at about the same planting depth as it was when in the pot or container. Water well. This settles the soil into place as well as moistening the roots. Check for any spots where the soil level has dropped and top up with more soil.
Water finds it harder to move into an established root system than into soft surrounding soil. Encourage the water to get in where it is needed by adding Saturaid, which is a rewetting granule, to keep plants evenly moist; then water again.
Lastly, apply a good layer of organic mulch over the root area. Don't let it contact the trunk or base of the plant. Remember to keep the root area moist over the next few months especially if it is hot, dry or windy.
• Gareth Carter is general manager of Springvale Garden Centre