Best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago or now

Best time to plant a tree? 20 years ago or now

Posted: Tuesday, July 22, 2008 8:43 pm

The best time to plant a tree, the sage (really a wag) said, is 20 years ago. The second best time, he continued, is now. He might have been right on the first count, but July 25 is definitely not the second best time. In fact, I will posit that the second best time is about 1 p.m. Nov. 28. Unless, that is, it is pouring cats and dogs. If so, then the second best time is about the same time the next day. Nobody in his right mind would deliberately plan to plant a tree today, or next week. It is too hot, the tree is in full leaf with its upper appendages constantly crying for succor in the form of plenteous water at its roots. Unless the planter is willing to hover over the specimen almost night and day, watering can or hose at the ready, the wee thing is destined to go under at the drop of a hat. Fall (and winter) planting is, for nearly all woody things, the best time to put them into the ground. The soil is generally workable in fall (not quite as likely in winter), the plant is dormant and not demanding of attention after planting. In fact, in a wet season, there is sometimes no need to even water at planting time, but on a small scale basis when there are only a few plants to deal with, I still like to mud them in even if the ground is already wet. A woody planted during dormancy has weeks, or months in the case of fall planting, to get its roots into action and well settled in before the demands of the growing season come around. The first year of any plant’s life is critical enough without it being forced into immediate growth right after being planted. The same is true for most perennials. Fall planting can gain almost a whole season on those planted in spring or early summer. There are those perennials that fairly demand fall or late summer planting. Daylilies, irises and peonies come to mind. These go tatty after bloom, and, once they do, it is all right to divide and re-set them. In the case of peonies, it can be done as soon as the foliage gets so derelict you can’t stand it any more, even if all the books tell you to wait until October or November. Farther north, peony foliage stays in fine fettle until hard frost, thus the advice to wait until then to plant or divide. All this being said, however, there are those occasions when practicality takes precedence over the usual modus operandi. A few years ago, on a hot August day, I observed a home-owner doubling the size of his carport, from a one-car to two-car capacity. The original had been bordered with five Korean boxwoods. These had been dug with a backhoe and were lying in the yard with sizable root balls attached. They were well over three feet tall and as much across. I stopped and tentatively asked the man what he was going to do with them. “Take them to the dump,” he replied. “I’ll be right back,” I told him. I immediately retrieved No. 2 son and returned. We were able, with Herculean effort, to manhandle the large bushes into my pickup. Time was of the essence, so I immediately dug out rudimentary planting holes in various places around our property, turned them into the holes, and watered, watered and watered them the rest of the summer. They never looked back and now, five years or so later, they have doubled in size and are as healthy as the proverbial mule. But I would have rather done it Nov. 28. Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column. Published in The Messenger 7.22.08

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