Humans have a natural urge to plant in the spring, and spring is the best time to sow garden seeds and plant annual bedding plants. Since time began, man planted as soon as the days got longer and the soil warmed, aiming to harvest before the frosts killed his crop. You might say that spring is the best time to plant a garden, but fall is the best time to landscape.
If you’ve been putting off some much-needed landscaping, consider sprucing up your yard during the season between late September and early December. Plants installed in early fall are very vigorous by spring. Homeowners who landscape in the fall are in for a real treat when spring arrives!
In springtime plants need lots of energy to create leaves and bloom. They push stored energy up from the root system, building new foliage and adding thickness to roots and stems. The leaves gather energy from the sun, storing it in the fruit, trunk and roots. By early fall they have finished the growing cycle and replenished their stored energy. This is when plants are at peak strength. They harden off new growth and drop their leaves, protecting themselves from the moisture loss caused by winter winds.
When a plant’s leaves and bloom are fading it can handle stress better and get by with less water. This is why the best time of the year to transplant woody plants is when they’re dormant. Their demand for water and nutrients drops dramatically but the root system continues to build as long as the soil is still warm.
Fall weather tends to be cool and moist, an ideal climate for newly planted gardens, and regular rainfall can help with watering duties. Another plus is that weed competition is minimal in fall. In late summer and early fall plants enter a “dormant” period. We like to say that they’re going to sleep. Woody plants and perennials tolerate transplanting best during this period. Even container-grown plants tend to adjust better in the landscape after summer stress is over.
Plant roots are often left behind during transplanting, and this can shock the plant during growth or bloom but doesn’t matter as much when it’s dormant. Dormant plants can be dug and perennials divided with very little stress. If roots are damaged a plant can replace them during the fall because it has a lot of stored energy. It has many months to adjust before it must produce new leaves, blooms and fruit.
This is why nurseries do their digging in the fall and winter, and stop digging in spring. Trees and shrubs dug during the dormant season can be stored above ground for long periods of time, and planted successfully. When they leaf out in spring, they automatically adjust their leaf size to compensate for the loss of roots while digging. Once re-planted, they will take a few years to rebuild their root systems before they resume normal growth and bloom. There’s an old saying, about newly transplanted trees, that sums this up well: “First year sleep, second year creep, and third year LEAP!”
Well-planned landscapes get better with time, and yours should look really good right now. Does it? If not, perhaps it’s time for a “makeover”. This is the best time of year to do it.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are on the “Garden Advice” page at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information is available at www.goodseedfarm.com or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.