Nov 2010:A Good Time to Plant

Welcome to our November edition. We will be taking a break from our series for the next two months. I remembered that students usually get a Thanksgiving and Christmas break, so we will take advantage of this time to cover two important topics. This month we’ll look at winter planting. Then in December we will focus on “landscaping for the soul,” which should prove to be a very enjoyable and heartfelt read. So let’s begin.

I am often asked when the weather gets colder: “Is it too late for planting?” The answer is always “no.” The best home for plants, regardless of season, is always in the ground. I will explain.

The containers we buy plants in are hot in the summer and cold in the winter. They offer no insulation. In fact they can make summer heat even worse. The black can on our hottest days is actually hot to the touch. In the winter, the container is not colder, but all the cold is borne by the plant, and the water in the can will actually freeze when our night temperatures drop to freezing. For plants whose cold tolerances are border line in our climate, this means death. The tops of a plant can freeze, and the plant will still live, new shoots will emerge in spring. However if the roots freeze, the plant is dead. So while in the container, the plant has no protection from the extreme temperatures; it is vulnerable. Even for plants that are hardy, remaining in the container is harder for them. If the same plant is in the ground and in a container, the plant that is in the ground will fl ower and leaf out sooner than the exact same variety in the container. This tells us something: the ground is a much better insulator.

We landscape year round, knowing that getting plants in the ground is always better. Also the bark we add not only is aesthetically pleasing, but it also acts as an extra “blanket” of insulation for the plants. This double protection allows plants to survive our temperature extremes much better than a plastic can. As I’ve already noted a sensitive plant may lose all its leaves or die back to the ground in winter, but they will produce new shoots in the spring because their roots were insulated and protected. During my years as a grower in the wholesale nursery business, we had a saying: “Grow roots and shoots will follow.” It’s a simple truth, but it helps you to understand how important it is to protect and provide a “safe haven” for the roots to grow.

So, no, it’s not too late for planting. In fact, there are advantages to starting a landscape project now. First, you will be able to watch your landscape come alive. I always tell my clients, “Wait till next spring, and you will see all the surprises I have planted for your enjoyment.” Our landscapes always have color year round, but after coming through winter, spring color is so welcoming and warming, it puts a smile on your soul!

Also starting a project in the winter is like going Christmas shopping before Thanksgiving. You avoid the Christmas rush. There’s less of a wait; I can attend to you sooner; and it is more convenient for you. Since you are spending more time indoors, you won’t “miss” opportunities to be in your garden. So in conclusion, it is not too late to plant, and in fact winter has some advantages of its own that the other seasons do not have. I wish you all a blessed Thanksgiving. Thank you for your support and faithful readership. –Arthur

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