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Yes, you read that right, and we do realize it is November.

Many people prefer January through March, at least for us here in the south, for planting, but the fall months of September through December have distinct advantages. Lets start with us humans first.
We gardeners are slowly migrating back outdoors after, in many places, record-breaking heat this summer. We love to garden, but the heat and humidity can really take a toll on the body. If you are anything like me, you have been struggling through and gardening anyway, so you are at least in a “little” bit better shape than you will be after a long winter of inactivity. So right there, fall makes more sense to be planting.

How many times have you planted something in the spring or summer and suddenly, it wilts?!

You know that it is stressed, but do you know why?When shrubs and trees are brought home and transplanted, they may suffer varying degrees of shock or stress. This may be from root loss (for field-grown or ball and burlap plants) or it could be the changes in how they were being cared for (container-grown plants). They might have been watered more often or the water pH could be vastly different. Weather conditions and the condition of your soil can also have an impact on how well and how quickly a plant adjusts to its new location.

The shock or stress is caused by the demand of the plant tops for water and the limited ability of the root system to supply it. Again, this is where fall planting is better. The plant may be getting ready to drop its leaves anyway, so there is no need to continue supporting them. A plant’s demand for water is far less in cooler and often rainy, fall weather. The plant has a better chance of a quick recovery in these situations, especially if it gets to develop new roots. Fall is also the time it builds up nutrient reserves needed for healthy growth come spring. In South Carolina we have soils that are warm enough throughout the fall and early winter that we can get good root growth. The thing to remember is the activity below ground goes right on until the deep soil temperature drops below 40 degrees.

Don’t necessarily go to a lot of trouble to put in peat moss or compost in the hole with the soil.

Research has shown plants actually grow better if they are planted in the same soil you dug it out of. This is where a soil test is beneficial. If the soil you are planting in is really poor, with lots of clay, no nutrients, etc. by all means add some compost or other soil amendments. The theory for this is, if the soil in the planting hole is much more nutrient-rich than the surrounding soil, the roots won’t want to spread beyond it and will grow in circles instead of out like a web. Make sure that you mulch with 2 or 3 inches of some type of pine straw, compost or some kind of organic material. Water it thoroughly to get rid of air pockets and so it has a good supply of water. The greatest cause of death of newly planted trees and shrubs is planting them too deep. The general rule of thumb is, make your planting hole one inch less than the rootball.

Do not fertilize the tree or shrub.

This is fall. We do not want to encourage foliage to grow; it will only weaken the plant, taking energy away from root establishment, and the foliage will just get burned by the cold or frost. Fertilize in the spring. This also goes for pruning. Pruning encourages new growth, which has the same detrimental effects in fall as fertilizer. This being said, if there are broken branches or crossing branches, you will want to cut them off. If you buy from a reputable nursery, you should not have either of these problems.
All of this information is also applicable to moving a tree or shrub from one spot to another in your yard.
Every plant in the landscape should serve a purpose. Ask yourself if you want a plant for screening, for privacy, or for shade. How large will it be five years from now? Plants, like people, grow up. Remember, that a small one-gallon-size plant will look entirely different after a few years of growth in your landscape. If you’re wondering how fast a tree or shrub grows, the easy answer is this: If you want it to get big fast, it’ll be slow-growing. If you really want it to stay small, it will grow quickly!!

Okay, all joking aside, here is a recap:

If you plant a shrub in spring, it must acclimate itself to its new home and begin growing immediately. At the same time, it has to produce leaves, flowers, and then endure the rapidly arriving summer heat. Plant the same shrub in fall, and it becomes happily dormant above ground soon after planting, but the roots have several months to grow and become comfortable and strong in their new home. Fall planting gives your plant’s roots a wonderful “head start” over spring planting.
Isn’t all of this a good reason to be getting your shovels back out?

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