Time is Running Out to Transplant, But Not To Plant

article written for www.patch.com

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! The truth is there is a huge difference between transplanting existing plant material on your property and purchasing new plants and installing them into your landscape. When you transplant, “take up an existing plant and set again in another soil or location,” you must be very careful 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, which is established, in any month that does not have an “R” in it. That leaves out May, June, July and August. The point being, it is easier and less stressful for plants to be moved during the cooler months of January, February, March, April, September, October, November and December.

Purchasing new plant material is either done in containers or as B&B (balled and burlapped). Container plants have been grown their entire life in a pot and simply shifted up in size as they mature. There is virtually no transplant shock if you purchase a plant this way. B&B plants are plants that were harvested from the ground with soil intact, wrapped with burlap and then tied with twine. When purchasing these kinds of plants, be mindful of the root ball. Make sure the ball is not dented or scarred and is well intact. Should the root ball appear “sloppy”, and the plant is loose in the ball, chances are the plant may be at some risk.

Availability seems to be the hardest obstacle to overcome in the warmer summer months. B&B plants are case sensitive and 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 summer months. Plants installed at this time are seldom at risk assuming proper care is given. Moreover, larger plants that were dug out of the ground, at the right time of year, also have virtually NO RISK of being reinstalled or planted if 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 soil conditions. Be mindful of the plant’s surroundings before you install it. Check for overhead wires, underground utilities as well as being aware of the plants potential. In other words, don’t plant too big of a tree in too small of an area. Monitor your plant material, checking it two to three times a week for water. Remember: over watering can be just as fatal as under watering.

Planting new trees and shrubs 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 Super Bowl or World Series. Nurseries and garden centers will certainly have as much product as possible during these months. 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. Either way, if you benchmark Mother’s Day, as most do, you can plant tomatoes, basil, figs, azaleas or whatever else you fancy with little concern.