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Fall Planting or Spring Planting

People often wonder when the best time to plant is – fall or spring. The fact is that both of those seasons are excellent for planting trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials.

Fall Planting

young woman and middle age man plant bulbs

In areas where an early fall frost is unlikely, fall planting is recommended because the soil is still warm, rains are frequent and being outside is still enjoyable.

Fall planting gives plants a jump-start on the growing season, which results in more robust plant growth. Trees, shrubs and herbaceous perennials have plenty of time to establish their roots, which continue to grow at a slow rate at the low temperatures of 45 and even 42 F. By spring, the transplanted or newly planted plants will have a sufficient root system developed in the fall in a previous season.

Here are a few tips for fall planting

  • Planting should be done about two months, and a minimum of six weeks, before the first average frost date. That gives plants enough time to repair and develop new roots before the ground freezes.
  • Fall rains ensure good plant establishment. If there is a dry fall, watering the new transplants is a must. About an inch of water per week will need to be added to keep them well irrigated.
  • Mulch preserves soil moisture and facilitates root development. Transplant shock is enhanced by inadequate soil moisture that is either too dry or too wet.
  • Mulching also helps prevent rapid cooling of the soil. Moist soil tends to stay warmer longer.
  • Fall is an ideal time to divide some of the spring and summer blooming plants. The new plants/divisions will be able to establish themselves enough for a good start in the spring.

Spring Planting

planting zone mapIn areas where an early fall frost is likely, spring planting is preferred. Planting should be done after the last spring frost. By that time, the soil temperature should be in the high 40s to mid 50s F. Gardeners, and growers alike, should consider the average date for the last spring frost occurrence in their region. Interactive maps are available that will provide that information according to zip code. Typically, the average last spring frost date in southwest West Virginia and parts along the Ohio River and southeast Ohio border is in late April. In the eastern and north central part of the state, this date is closer to mid-May. In the northeastern, mountainous region of the state, the average last spring frost date is in late May.

Here are a few tips for spring planting:

  • At least 10 days prior to planting, remove mulch from the beds or designated planting areas to accelerate soil warm-up.
  • Loosen the soil by digging the hole big enough to accommodate roots without having to bunch them up or fold them. Allow plenty of room to spread around to avoid coiling and subsequent girdling. The standing rule is that the hole should be about three times larger than the root system and twice as deep to allow for backfill and positioning of the plant. The plants should be buried at the same
    depth as they were in the nursery or in the pot.
  • Water generously immediately after planting to push out any air pockets around the roots and to ensure a good, firm contact between the roots and the soil.
  • Apply mulch 3 to 4 inches deep. Pull the mulch away from the bark at the base of the tree trunk to avoid potential collar rot, winter injury, root rot, and increased insect and rodent damage.