When Is the Best Time to Plant Trees, Shrubs, Bulbs?

— Written By Bill Hanlin and last updated by JoAnne Gryder

When gardeners think about when to plant in the landscape, they often think about spring. After a long winter of little gardening activity, many people are anxious to bulbsget out and get plants in the ground. However, fall may be a better time to plant trees, shrubs, and spring bulbs.

Why is fall a good time to plant? When trees and shrubs are put in the ground this time of year they begin to establish their root system, even though the top of the plant is going dormant. Roots will continue to grow until the ground freezes or may continue to grow throughout a mild winter. A well-established root system will encourage good growth and help the plant survive dry periods.

A few things need to be taken care of before plants go in the ground. Ideally, a soil sample should be taken so you know what you need to add to the soil. Right now, the turn around time for a soil sample sent to the North Carolina Department of Agriculture is about two weeks. Sample analysis is free until the end of November.

If you do not have the soil analyzed, you still may need to add some nutrients like phosphorus to the soil. Phosphorus is an important nutrient for root development and is normally present in low levels in our soils. Phosphorus moves very slowly through the soil so it is best to add it to the soil that is put back in the planting hole. Some fertilizers that just include phosphorus are super phosphate and bone meal.

Mulch should be placed around trees and shrubs and over bulbs once they are in the ground. Mulch helps protect the roots of shallow rooted plants and keeps moisture near the root system. Mulch also helps to prevent soil heaving that can push plants out of the ground.

Do not neglect the plant once you put it in the ground. Evergreens will continue to lose water through their leaves even in winter. Plants, particularly evergreens, should be watered during dry periods in fall to prevent plant desiccation injury