When is the best time to plant trees and shrubs?

Witchhazel’s fall leaf color soon gives way to gold or orange blooms in winter.

Realistically, southern gardeners CAN plant anytime, but certain conditions will make it easier to get your new plants established. The milder temperatures and wetter conditions of fall make October/November/December the best time to plant shrubs and trees. Relative to summer’s hot/dry conditions, all the other seasons are friendlier to your new plants. You’re making an investment in your landscape – give it the best chance of success. You won’t be dragging the hose around, worrying that your new Azaleas, Boxwoods, or Camellias will make it.
But what if you just can’t resist that beautiful Arborvitae in April, a marvelous Maple in May, or just a Juniper in June? Not to worry – you can still plant them, and just monitor any rainfall to ensure that we either get about 1” per week, or you’ll need to provide supplemental water.
When watering any new plant, grass included – it’s always best to water deeply less often, so that the moisture gets down to the root zone. Either hand-water or check with a measuring device like a cat food can to see how long your sprinkler takes to achieve 1 inch. Think about the size of the container the plant was in when you brought it home – you need to fill that size bucket with water to ensure that the entire root zone gets saturated. And there’s no substitute for the good-old finger test – simply stick your finger down in the soil to see if it feels wet. Over-watering can be just as problematic as under-watering for some plants.
You’ll also want to ensure that your soil drains well – our straight clay frequently encountered in the Piedmont does not. Clay holds water well, which works great for water-loving plants such as Winterberry, Red Buckeye, Fothergilla, and Yaupon Holly.

Winterberry thrills soon after leaf drop and thrives in wet soil.

But here’s an important consideration for most conifers and ornamental shrubs and trees – roots actually grow in the air pockets between soil particles, and clay’s tiny particles mean less air down there – so you may want to add pine bark soil conditioner, or even mini-nuggets to open up larger drainage spaces for plants like Roses, Aucuba, and Gardenia that absolutely cannot tolerate “wet feet”.
Now, what about planting in summer’s heat? Are we dooming our new woody friends to a painful struggle? No, but maybe we’re dooming the gardener that way. Just know that it’s going to be a commitment to pampering that plant if we don’t get enough rain. Even with this year’s extraordinary rainfall surplus we still had a period of no rain for 3 weeks in July’s searing heat. Add to that the extreme cold we had for 3 weeks at the start of the year, and many plants that sustained cold damage held on only to throw in the towel at the other extreme.
So, what’s the bottom line on the best time to plant? It’s always going to be fall/early winter, but if you’re willing to be careful, you can shepherd your new investment through most any weather conditions, any time of year – have no fear! Visit your local garden center year-round, as different plants are featured every month. Spring-bloomers are impossible to resist, but there is something blooming or just showing off beautiful foliage all around the calendar. If you only shop in spring you’ll miss out on the beauty of the other seasons, and plants that perform well at different times and in different conditions.
Here’s a partial list of what to look for now – fall and winter provide a vast palette of choices to add to the landscape:
• Evergreens/Conifers –
o Boxwood
o Cedar
o Cryptomeria
o Cypress
o Hinoki False Cypress
o Pine
o Spruce
• Evergreens/Broadleaf –
o Camellia sasanqua & hybrids (fall/winter bloomers)
o Yellow Anise (Illicium parviflorum ‘Florida Sunshine’)
o Southern Magnolia ‘Teddy Bear’
o Osmanthus heterophyllus ‘Goshiki’
o Aucuba japonica ‘Gold Dust’
o Mahonia x media ‘Hope’
o Distylium ‘Blue Cascade’ and ‘Cinnamon Girl’
o Holly – dozens of varieties, including Dwarf Yaupon
o Indian Hawthorne
o Rhododendron
o Mountain Laurel
o Viburnum – great variety
o Yew
o Podocarpus
o Sweetbox
o Carolina Jasmine
o Nandina ‘Lemon Lime’
o Inkberry
o Heuchera
o Hellebores
• Winter Interest
o Pyracantha ‘Mojave’, Firethorn
o Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’
o Winterberry
o ‘Christmas Jewel’ Holly
o Witchhazel
o Daphne odora ‘Aureomarginata’
o Red Twig Dogwood

Come in soon and visit these plants in the greenhouse…aka my “happy place”.

– Christina

Guilford Garden Center

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