The Roundup -

When Is The Best Time To Plant?


September 19, 2018 | View PDF

Like it or not, the changing of foliage, the coolness of the nights and the dampness of the air as I write this, are all signs that fall is upon us. 

People often ask us "when is the best time to plant?"  They often are asking because they desire to succeed in getting whatever they are planting, to grow. It often sounds like a sales pitch this time of year when we respond, Now. "Oh sure, you just want to sell product" they might think. But the reality remains that now is simply the best time to plant anything that is a year after year plant. 

 We often get confused in this region because we really do have a grain growing, farming mentality. We plant in the spring, and harvest in the fall, so why is fall the best time to plant?

 There are many reasons why, and I'll seek to explain them in this article.

 Firstly, the warm days of summer are behind us. Heat is stressful to all living things and just as much to plants as to anything else.  Most plants do not do well when temperatures reach the upper 80s or 100-degree mark.  Plants are happier and healthier when temps are in the 70s. By waiting to plant until the middle of August or early September we can be assured that most of the warm days of the year are over.  That does not mean that we won't end up with a warm day here or there but the stresses of heat on a plant are not nearly so likely.

Secondly, when planting in areas that are more remote, water requirements are less intense when temperatures are not quite so warm.  If you desire to plant but do not have an easy way of watering the space, fall is a great time.  The lower temps often mean fewer water requirements.  Watering still should be somewhat consistent the first at least three years of a plant's life in a space.  To offer some clarity I generally refer to a young plant like an infant child.  They need to eat a little bit, and fairly often.  Young plants are much the same way.  Until they grow up and their roots can find their own water, even the most drought tolerant of plants cannot go completely without water.  In our region, we simply cannot rely on rain to do the watering for us.

 A water regiment for young trees, shrubs, and perennials should change based upon the weather.  During the warm summer months of late June through early August watering should often be at least every other day, if not every day.  The volume of the container the plant was growing in is a good rule to follow with regard to the amount of water needed.

 When cooler temps arrive in the fall we can get by with watering less frequently.  Often our interval or number of days can increase in the fall, making it easier to keep a plant watered and thus a good time to plant.  In the fall we can often water a couple of times a week at the same volume as we did in the warmer summer months. 

 When temps get colder yet, in late September and early October we often think about rolling our hoses up and putting things away for the winter.  We should really resist that temptation. 

 Our fall seasons in Eastern MT and Western ND are routinely very dry.  We often get very little rain and very little snow.  Since this is the case, the investment of water that we have made through the season can often disappear before winter actually sets in.  This can be dangerous for a young plant.  Dry soil does not protect against cold temperatures as well as wet soil does.  Also when spring returns, the dry soil warms up more quickly than wet soil causing plants to wake up too early and be subject to dangerous cold spring temps.

 Late fall watering then should be at least weekly to ensure that the soil around the plant stays moist until the ground becomes hard.  This can often be as late as mid-November.

 Lastly, with regard to the fall being the best time to plant.  The cooler temperatures often result in lower soil temperatures as well.  Soil temperatures in the 40s promote strong root development.  Plants were designed this way as a manner of preparing for winter.  Instead of putting on leaves and branches they focus instead on developing their root systems for winter.  By planting in the fall you have an already warm soil, instead of planting in the spring when the soil is still far too cold.

 We have a preoccupation with "the Best" in our society.  That being said the "optimum "window for planting in our climate is the 30-day window from August 15th to September 15th.  You can plant up until the ground freezes but that planting window offers the prime amount of time to develop a root system for winter.

 As always we are here to help you with all your plant needs.  If you ever need assistance please don't hesitate to contact us.  Remember, we're open all year long!  Come and visit us if you're ever passing through.

 Visit our website or find us on Facebook to stay in touch with all the fun fall and winter opportunities we have when it is too cold to be gardening outdoors.

Good Luck and Happy Growing.


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