Planting Season

Ed inspects the first delivery of annuals in mid May.

Ed inspects the first delivery of annuals in mid May.

May Day at tea time.

May Day at tea time.

We were wise to wait until after Mother’s Day to start planting annuals. Nights have remained cool. The soil was downright chilly. Soil temperatures regulate much of the activity above ground, and when they started to warm, our fair city greened in a hurry. It’s hard to believe that six short weeks ago, work was called on account of snow.

Although we have nearly finished planting annuals for the season, the carport and back patio are once again filling. This time it’s with perennials. We have projects ranging from converting an artificial turf putting green destroyed in the Waldo Canyon Fire to establishing groundcovers under a lofty canopy to planting up beds created in response to water shortages in an effort to reduce thirsty turf.

The old putting green about to receive its first plants.

The old putting green about to receive its first plants.

Planting season will continue through June, as long as daytime temperatures stay reasonably normal (no triple digits, please), and evenings cool. The one condition: Homeowners must take responsibility for regular hand watering to get plants established. To be within the rules of current water restrictions, any watering that takes place outside of your designated hours and days must be done with a drip system or by hose with a positive shut-off and on trees, shrubs, and beds only.

If too much heat comes into the forecast, we’ll take a break in planting. It really isn’t wise to ask plants to deal with getting situated in a new location during a hot spell. Too much stress. Don’t believe me? Try it yourself: Move to a house without air conditioning in, say, Houston in July. Doesn’t sound the least bit appealing, does it?

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Why Wait for Fall

I first discovered fall planting about a decade ago. How? Springtime is too busy to plant in my own garden while keeping up with client demands. Summer? Well, it’s just too darned hot for both the planter and the newly planted.

Great things happen after the first of August, however.

First, nights get longer and generally cooler. This means that even if the day is hot, there’s often a respite between dusk and dawn — for garden and gardener alike. Longer, cooler nights help keep moisture in plants and soil. Stress levels go down.

Near the beginning of September, nights have become long enough to trigger changes in plant processes. What we notice takes place above ground — greatly diminished growth, the yellowing of some leaves, and a mellowing and quieting of most blooming activity. What we can’t see: Below the surface, roots are growing.

Growing underground in September, this new installation will start filling in next spring.

The convergence of lower overall stress and root growth make for excellent planting conditions. There is less opportunity for transplant shock. Even better, there is a good chance the new plant will root out in the still-warm soil creating a stronger plant next spring.

Another advantage of fall planting is cost saving. Garden centers regularly offer great bargains to clear their shelves. And, because it’s cooler you won’t be spending as much time and money keeping new plants hydrated.

Most plants benefit from dividing, transplanting, and planting in the early fall — from mid-August to the Autumnal equinox. This includes irises, daylilies, perennials, ornamental grasses, deciduous and evergreen shrubs, and small trees. Some sources say that grasses and evergreens do best if planted in the spring, but I can’t say I’ve found that to be true. Trees may also do quite well if planted after they’ve dropped their leaves in October.

You’ll want to get all your planting done by October. Not that all your plants will turn into pumpkins after October 1. It’s just you’ll want time to put in bulbs for spring.

Speaking of bulbs: Have  you placed your orders?