The single best planting time of the entire year is almost with us
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

October 8, 2017

Again this week, I only have pictures of our Parksville garden in various seasons to illustrate this item. Above, Yucca filamentosa growing at our sea wall with a little action on the Salish Sea; Near the entrance to our garage we have this lovely red Azalea with a Garry Oak growing up through it; and a shot of our main path through the garden. Below, this pink Camellia is the most florific in the east side garden; the spring flowers of the ever so common Silver Dollar plant; and a winter shot of the large pond with a light snow covering. Author photos.




We are right at the beginning of the single best planting season of the year, and yet most homeowners and gardeners will take a pass, and opt instead to do their planting next spring.

While it's true that spring weather is often (as was the case this past spring) excellent for transplanting trees, evergreens, shrubs, hedges, roses and vines, there are many years when Spring weather is anything but spring-like! Many years, it's more like summer! On the other hand, autumn weather is usually more predictable, and for most types of plants, autumn is a better time for planting, than is spring.

Since the expansion of containerized trees, shrubs, evergreens and many other types of nursery stock, it has been possible to plant an entire garden at virtually any time of the year from the time frost leaves the ground in the early spring, until a hard frost in the autumn. There is, however, one distinct advantage that autumn planting has over summer planting. In the fall, the soil is at its warmest, and newly planted trees, shrubs etc. are able to make root growth much faster than they are in the spring, when the soil is cold, and often still with some frost pockets. This slow root growth, combined with sudden spring hot weather, is often the cause of these deciduous plants leafing out before there is sufficient root growth to support the new foliage. That results in die-back and loss of foliage.

The optimum time for planting deciduous shrubs, hedges and shade trees such as maples, oaks, and locust, is immediately after the first hard frost that kills the leaves on these deciduous plants. Fall is also ideal for planting many evergreen trees and shrubs (pines, spruce, junipers and yews), but with these, generally the sooner you get them planted now, the better.

Since there is no water loss through the leaves of the deciduous trees and shrubs (as there usually is in the spring, when the leaves begin to grow soon after the plants are transplanted), trees, hedge plants and shrubs are all able to make the needed root growth for a head start the following spring. The evergreens too will make faster root growth due to the warmer soil--hence the recommendation that evergreens be planted soon now. The newly acquired plants are able to establish a good feeding root system before real winter conditions set in. In spring, the opposite is the case, and it is often several weeks before the soil warms up sufficiently to allow the new plants to put out a vigorous new feeding root system.

There are still other advantages of autumn planting. If there is a shortage of a particular type of tree or shrub, obviously once the available plants are sold, they are gone! It may be that an additional supply can be obtained from another nursery, another part of the country, or even from another country, but that is not always a sure thing. The shortage can sometimes be industry-wide. This means that if you buy your plants in the autumn, you get the first choice of what is available--ahead of all those people purchasing next spring!

There is still an additional incentive--most garden centres offer some type of warranty on nursery stock purchased so gardening consumers assume no risk with autumn planting. On top of all of the foregoing advantages keep in mind that most garden centres offer discounts on many plants at this time of year. Those discounts will almost certainly not be seen next spring.

There are limitations to planting in the autumn. Generally a few trees are best in the spring--but the list is short: magnolias, willows, poplars, fruit trees, and in some locations broadleaf evergreens such as rhododendrons, azaleas, firethorn etc. On the other hand, some shrubs/trees, lilacs for example, are much better planted late in the autumn--the later the better--than they are planted in the spring.

Spring-flowering bulbs is entirely a separate topic, and I'll get into detail on that topic again over the next weeks. There is no particular rush in getting tulips planted--even December is OK for them, provided the soil is not totally frozen, but daffodils and narcissus are best planted by mid-October, so they can make the needed root growth. Do be sure to buy from a reputable garden centre or bulb supplier where you will get the top-size bulbs that provide the largest blooms, along with the advice on what to plant and how--all at the best prices. The unusual bulb varieties often sell out early so now is the time to shop!


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