March 2018
The Magic of Gardening

Spring Planting Season

Maybe it’s not the optimal time of year for installing new landscape plants but following these tips will improve your chances of success.


Spring is the second-best time of year to plant, and the sooner the better as winter wanes and spring commences.

I have been telling people my whole career that fall is the best time to plant trees and shrubs, but almost nobody (including me) follows that advice every time. "Why not?" you may ask. The answer is multilayered.

If you ask the nursery operators, they will say they would love to see more fall sales. However, customers just are not buying enough then. They cannot justify heavily stocking plants they will have to hold all winter if they do not sell.

If you talk to consumers who know the proper time to plant, they will say something like, "The plant choices are limited in the fall."

On the positive side, now is the second-best time of year to plant, and the sooner the better as winter wanes and spring commences. The reason fall planting is ideal is because we seldom have long cold spells freezing the soil to any depth and plant roots continue to grow all winter in the south.

If you plant now, the plants will have some opportunity to root in before the heat of summer hits. You will need to be more diligent to keep them well-watered throughout the first growing season and possibly longer. A good rule of thumb is that the larger the plant the longer you need to baby it with regular waterings.

Consumers often think that the bigger the plant the better, but smaller plants are much easier to establish – not to mention they are a lot less expensive.

If you are diligent in watering your new landscape plants, they will reward your efforts by faster growth and will quickly catch up in size to the more expensive plants that often are much slower to establish, even when watered properly.

There are a few things you can do to improve your chances of success with spring-planted trees and shrubs you bought in pots.

Dig the planting hole wide, but no deeper than the root ball. Planting too deep can be the death knell for woody landscape plants.

If you have heavy soil, do not add organic material into the planting hole. This can negatively change the water movement and actually cause water to move in but not out of the planting hole.

If the soil is poor, consider adding better soil or organic matter to the entire planting bed for shrubs (expected root zone for trees). Many plants benefit from being perched slightly above grade.

Remove the loose organic material from the roots by washing them and pulling them apart. If roots are circling in the pot, cut or straighten them before planting.

Do not fertilize or prune the first year unless there are dead or damaged limbs.

Lightly mulch around plants to help keep weeds out and string trimmers away.

Water, water, water. Yes, it is possible to overwater and you should physically check to see if the soil is wet. It is easy to forget to water for a few days and that can make a difference in hot weather.

Do not be afraid to plant woody landscape plants in the spring but do follow these tips to increase your chance of success.


Tony A. Glover is a County Extension Coordinator in Cullman County.