A Popular Misconception


One of the most popular questions I field during the spring is, “when is a good time to plant?” My answer… you can plant anytime, as long as you can break ground. Homeowners become weary and skeptical around this time every year. When our heat index rises and it becomes uncomfortable for more rigorous, outdoor yard work, it seems that zinnias, red fountain grass, other tropicals and larger pots of annual color dominate the public’s eye and fill temporary landscapes. The truth is there is a huge misconception between transplanting and planting new plant materials during the hot summer months.

Transplanting existing plant material and planting new plant material is entirely different. When you transplant, “take up an existing shrub and set again in another soil or location,” you must be very particular as to when you dig it out of the ground. There is an old adage that says you should never dig something out of the ground, that is established, in any month that does not have an “R” in the word. That leaves out May, June, July and August. The point being that it is easier and less stressful for plants to reestablish themselves during the cooler months of January, February, March, April, September, October, November and December. Yes, it is possible to transplant something in the dead of winter assuming that the ground is not entirely frozen. After all the plant is dormant.

Planting new trees and shrubs, setting our green friends in the ground to grow, seems to be most popular, in the northeast, during the months of April, May and June. Almost any garden center looks at Mothers Day weekend as their Superbowl or World Series of events. Garden centers will have as much product packed into their real estate as possible for the big event. The last frost date for most of New Jersey is around May 15th. If you follow the lunar calendar, it’s the first full moon in May. This year that was May 16th. Either way, if you benchmark Mother’s Day, as most do, you can plant tomatoes, basil, figs, azaleas or whatever safely. This year, Mother’s Day was May13th.

Spring plantings dominate the northeast, with our inclusion of annuals, perennials, vegetables, trees, shrubs and tropicals. Autumn seems to be a distant second, an after thought, only for the basics, i.e. azaleas, rhododendron, juniper and laurels as well as the more majestic conifers like spruce, hemlock and pine. That leaves roughly 90 days of good planting weather for you to develop your gardens. Availability seems to be the hardest obstacle to overcome in the warmer summer months. B&B (balled and burlap plant material) is case sensitive and is dug in cooler months. Once a garden center has gone through its allotment or inventory for the spring, it is hard to restock larger specimen plants. However, containerized plants are abundant during the warmer summer months and are at absolutely no risk of being installed during this time of year. Moreover, larger plants that were dug out of the ground at the right time of year also have no risk of being reinstalled or planted during warmer summer months as they were dug while they were dormant. The same logic still applies when planting in the spring, summer or fall. Sight your plants properly being cognizant of lighting conditions, deer issues and proximity to their surroundings. Just because it’s summer don’t water a plant everyday! Monitor the plant and check it two to three times a week for water. Over watering can be just as fatal as under watering.

There are exceptions to the rule, however, about transplanting trees within the months that have an “R”. There are fall digging hazards for a number of trees and thus it is suggested that the following types of trees be thoughtfully transplanted during February and March. Trident Maples, Birch, Hornbeams, Katsura’s, Redbuds, Hawthorns, Beech, Carolina Silverbells, Goldenraintrees, Sweetgums, Tuliptrees, Crabapples, Black Gums, Hophornbeams, Cherries, Pears, Oaks, Willows, Mountainash, Lindens, Chinese Elms and Zelkova’s have all been deemed dangerous for fall transplanting.

Planting trees and shrubs in the summer gives our green friends roughly four to six months to set their feet (roots) into the ground and become comfortable for our infamous Jersey winters. As you peruse nursery stock this summer be mindful that a standard 2-2.5” caliper tree that is balled and burlapped should have a 24” size root ball and weighs approximately 300 pounds. Container trees that are similar in size may be manageable enough for you to load into your SUV and be the weekend warrior you know you are.