“Go For It”
Who can forget the famous catchphrase “Go for it” muttered throughout the Rocky films? I believe it was the mobster Gazzo in Rocky 2 that first yelled it as Rocky was about to beat Apollo Creed. Clearly though it was Clubber Lang’s (Mr. T) comment, “I’m gonna bust you up,” that sparked the retort, “Go for it,” from Rocky that everyone remembers. So what does this piece of film trivia have to do with horticulture? There seems to be a popular misconception that spring is the best time of year to plant and that fall/autumn is simply left for mums, pumpkins and any plant material left over that didn’t sell. Nothing could be further from the truth!
There is an old adage, you can transplant safely within any month that has an “R” in the word. This negates May, June, July and August! There are two key points here. The first is the word transplant! That is the act of pulling something out of the ground and planting it somewhere else, which in fact is different than planting. Planting is simply installing something that has been container grown or reinstalling something that was dug while it was dormant. Which brings me to my second point. The other months not mentioned above are associated with cooler climate. A time of year when plant materials have shut down or are shutting down making their move to a new location more conducive to planting. There is less stress, slower growth and cooler temperatures this time of year, thus increasing the odds of survivability.
There are ways to ensure that a plant succeeds at its new home. Simply being enamored with a plant, purchasing it and planting it doesn’t guarantee a plant’s life. Soil content, moisture levels and sunlight all contribute to a plant’s outcome. Remember, there is no one plant or one answer for one area. People always ask me what plant I recommend for one area or another. There can and will be several answers! Recently I gave a talk and was asked what low growing, evergreen plant I recommend in partial shade, slightly moist with a deer problem. Cephalotaxus (Japanese Plum Yew) was my first response, however Microbiota decussata (Russian Cypress) or Sarcococca hookeriana (Himalayan Sweetbox) are also fine solutions. The point being, while there is no formal homework required to purchase plants, there is a responsibility for you to ask questions and be thoughtful about your purchases. We are, after all, talking about life.
So, we have established that there are several factors to consider ensuring a plants health. You have asked questions, purchased an appropriate plant, given the location, and are willing to accept the burden of understanding the water requirements and lighting conditions of this plant. By the way, when you read a tag that says, “likes sun/part shade” that doesn’t mean there is a magical formula that requires that plant to have 4.6 hours a day of sunlight. It means, ask more questions and consider gardening trial by error. Again, we are talking about life and adaptability. Some plants like more sun and some like more shade. You are now ready to plant!
Aside from the obvious, digging an appropriate sized hole, substituting some existing soil content with some new content and finding the root flare of the tree or shrub, there is one mechanic that I wish more people would embrace. That is the addition of Mycorrhizae in their backfill. The Latin origin of the word, Myco means fungus and rrhizae means roots refers to several species of fungi which parasitize the root systems of plants. This symbiotic relationship improves a plants ability to receive nutrients and water uptake, aids in root growth, plant growth and yield while reducing both transplant shock and drought stress. And while this naturally occurs in undisturbed areas like forest floors, acting as an important part of its ecosystem, there needs to be an amendment of this to our natural soils as tillage, fertilization, removal of top soil, erosion and home construction all lead to the removal of what was once there.
Independent garden centers do a great job of providing plant materials with current seasonal interest. Inventories are strong and plentiful this time of year. Long term health for your plants is dependant on proper siting, the basic mechanics of proper installation and long term care with food and water. The basics are set in motion for you. So go forth and plant. Take Rocky’s shibboleth expression to heart and “Go for it!”