When Is It Too Late to Plant?

We got a question over on another blog post about whether it was too late to plant now. Despite our gloomy, cold, snowy (ugh!) October, it is not really too late to plant most trees, perennials and shrubs until the ground is frozen.

As I explained on an earlier blog post, I once had an entire landscape (trees, shrubs, perennials and turf grass) installed in mid-November. The snow was flying as the guys dug the holes and planted the plants. I watered it until the ground froze, then took up the watering routine again in spring. I may have lost one perennial, but everything else came up beautifully the next year, and for many years to come.

The key to doing a late season planting is to plant it the right way: rough up the root ball really well because anything you buy at a nursery now is probably pot bound (see photos below); place the plant properly (even with the soil around it -- no volcanoes!); spread a couple of inches of mulch around the plant but not too close to the stem; water it well and continue to water it daily (unless it rains) until the ground is frozen. In the spring, continue to water the plant regularly for several weeks, until it gets established well. To tell whether a plant needs watering, stick your finger an inch down into the soil around the plant. If it's damp, you are OK. If not, get out the hose.

Advantages of planting in the fall (even the late fall) are many -- plants often are on-sale, you don't have to worry about excessive heat and the fall tends to have adequate rainfall. You will not have the same selection as you will in spring, however, which is one of the disadvantages of fall planting.

pot bound hydrangea

Before -- This hydrangea is pretty pot bound. Get out a pruners or other tool and start roughing things up.

shaggy roots on hydrangea

After. Consider it tough love. The plant will thank you for freeing its roots.

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  1. Ed J Mackiewicz on September 8, 2019 at 2:37 am

    Great post. Very informative.

  2. W.carlisle on August 21, 2021 at 10:34 am

    Very helpful. I intend moving an existing plant as rain is forecast for the next few days.

  3. Lisa Nielsen on September 17, 2022 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks for the good information! I’m going to move some plants today that I was afraid to transplant, thinking it was too late! I’m moving hostas and a Bridal Veil Spirea.

    • MSHS on September 17, 2022 at 8:09 pm

      Yay, happy to help. It’s a beautiful early fall day to be in the garden. Happy transplanting!

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