It's Planting Time!

By Paul James

Every year for the past 25 years or more, I’ve tried to convince my friends and fellow gardeners that now is the perfect time to plant all kinds of things. So here I go again. But to be clear, I’m not talking about things that most folks know to plant in fall – mums, pansies, asters, ornamental kale and cabbage, cool-season veggies, fescue and rye grasses, spring-flowering bulbs – the stuff that practically defines fall planting. I’m talking about practically everything else, in particular trees, shrubs, and perennials.

The reason I’ve harped on the subject for so long is that I’ve witnessed firsthand for decades the enormous difference fall planting makes.  Allow me to explain by getting to the root (or rather, roots) of the matter.

Planting in the fall gives roots a chance to grow quickly, because the plant isn’t forced to devote near as much energy toward producing foliage or flowers or fruit as it is in spring. Instead, it devotes nearly all of its energy into producing roots, a process that continues for weeks, even months. The reverse is generally true in the spring – a plant’s energy is devoted to new top growth at the expense of root growth.

Consequently, what you plant in fall will be far more prepared for the surge of new growth in spring, and be far better equipped to handle the heat of summer, thanks to its larger root mass. And fall planting greatly reduces the chance of transplant shock, largely because air temperatures are cooler and rainfall is more dependable.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not saying you shouldn’t plant trees, shrubs, and perennials in spring. But I am saying that given a choice, I’d opt to plant the vast majority of plants from those categories in fall. And so should you.