Fall Is The Best
I used to think that planting time was the day after you bought your stuff that needed to be planted. I went to the nursery whenever the mood struck and planted it in the next day or so, and really that worked just fine. Our mild climate means that we really can plant year round, but…Spring and Summer planted shrubs are always so much more work. Our summers tend to be long, hot and humid. Even if I do feel like getting out there and digging holes when it’s ninety degrees, the plants tend to suffer for a few reasons.
The Problem With Spring…
Spring weather is perfect for planting. After the last frost date, we still have a good month or more of warm days and cool nights before the heat starts cranking up. This mild weather keeps plants looking their best with minimal effort on the part of the one taking care of them. It can easily lull you to sleep.
…Is It’s Proximity to Summer
We can’t rest when the hot weather arrives. Monitoring recently planted trees and shrubs for water needs is only part of the process. If plants that have not yet established themselves become stressed due to drought, heat (not the same as drought), over-watering, poor air circulation, wrong sun exposure, etc., they are at a compromised risk level for disease and insect infestation. The last thing you want to do after planting a beautiful new addition to the landscape is to begin spraying and pruning it to treat for maladies. The good news is that these circumstances are very much avoidable!
Plant In Fall
In this area, the sweet spot on the calendar for planting most trees, shrubs, hardy vines and many perennials begins in October and extends through the middle of December. Many other areas may see the window open in September or even late August. By planting as the plants themselves are preparing for dormancy or after they have gone dormant, you avoid the conflicting urges within them that choose between root growth and top growth. All energy is focused on root growth until Spring. A well established root system will continue to get stronger and deeper through the mild Spring and will provide the highest chance of survival through the hot summer weather to come. By the way, if you are planning on transplanting an established tree or shrub to a new location, fall is also the best time to do that, for the same reasons.
Another benefit to fall planting is the minimal amount of watering that is required. True, fall is often a dry time of year, but this is not exactly a problem. The water requirements of woody plants heading into dormancy are vastly reduced compared to the same plant’s requirements while in Spring growth mode. Also, the cooler weather means far less evaporation of soil moisture, so that even though we’re getting less rain, it is nearly enough (on average) to supply what the new plant needs. Which brings me to a sub-topic…
Now when I think about planting time, I imagine leaves changing and Canada geese honking overhead. It is easier on my body and better for the plants.
Some Plants Break My Rules
There are a few plants that I have found that still perform best when planted in Spring…at least around here. Those species which are nearest their cold limit often prefer to root in over the summer. A few examples I have experience with include gardenia, fig and Indian hawthorn which are all zone 7+, and I happen to live in zone 7. For these plants, the heat is not a problem and they need all the roots they can get heading into Winter.
Check With Local Gardeners
Having lived and gardened in the mid-Atlantic, northern Great Lakes, upper Midwest and now the South, I am comfortable broadly recommending fall/late summer planting to anyone in those areas. As long as the ground is not frozen, it’s not too late. But when it gets down to specific plants and and site conditions, it’s always best to talk to your local experts before relying on the opinion of some guy on the internet. Happy gardening!