Spring through early summer are the busiest times for people to have garden plans made up and installed (writer excepted–garden fever begins in the dead of winter for this transplanted Vancouver Islander). Most people are excited by the warming weather and look forward to enjoying their gardens.
However, if one were to remove all emotion from the matter of gardens and springtime, which I doubt is actually possible, then one might note that the ideal time to put in a garden is not at all the same as the most popular time!
Here, then, are the top five reasons to plan and install your new garden in late summer or early fall:
1. Plants and materials tend to be on sale for at least 30% off by this time of year as nurseries and suppliers clear out stock. Your cost of materials to install your dream garden will, therefore, be substantially less than at other times of year.
2. Ironically, the least expensive time to buy a tree is also the time of year when it is most likely to survive a transplant. There is always some risk involved in transplanting trees successfully. Frequently, trees lose substantial amounts of their root systems when moved from the nursery lot. Until they grow new roots and adjust to their new location, it is difficult for them to cope with water loss through the summer. The hotter the environment, the more water is lost through their leaves or needles, but their roots aren’t yet ready to take up enough water to replace it.
It is entirely possible to transplant trees in spring or even summer; it’s just much easier in autumn.
If transplanted in fall, a tree has several cooler months in which to establish roots without heat stress before it goes dormant. Then, in early spring it has additional time to establish itself before trying to support leaves, seeds and so on, giving it a much better start before its first hot summer.
3. Bulbs are available beginning in August. Normally, when a new garden is installed and all the plants are put in, at least three inches of mulch are spread on all the bare areas to minimize watering and keep weeds down (among other things). If you don’t spread mulch you will be weeding incessantly before you know it; but if you do, then you will still have to rake or move the mulch out of the way again in fall, to put your bulbs in. You may disturb the shrubs and perennials you put in months before, and you may also disrupt your mulch cover so much that weeds get a foothold sooner. Planting the new garden in late August through October avoids this problem entirely.
In addition to crocuses, tulips, daffodils and the like, Allium Gigantium, Giant Flowering Onion, and other Allium varieties are very popular these days for gardens from modern to classic. They flower late May to early June and may be a crucial part of a garden design. Nonetheless, you must buy and plant them in fall as garden centres do not carry them in spring and summer.
The downside, however, is that not all perennials may still be available at this time. However, adding missing perennials is not as difficult as adding bulbs after the fact, however, as bulbs can require more generalized digging throughout the garden, the addition of bone meal and often deeper disruption of the soil.
4. Maintenance: it is easier to keep your new garden alive. Planting at the beginning of summer means that you will have to water your plants heavily during the inevitable July heat wave, as they establish roots. It takes a full season for plants to establish any real root system at all, and heat really takes the water out of your new plants. In fall, conditions are ideal. There is less heat and the soil tends to remain moist longer. In addition, it is cooler overnight and the atmosphere cools and moistens the foliage. This is important because much moisture is lost through the foliage in summer, yet it is hard on plants to wet their foliage down on very hot days.
When planted by early autumn, plants have several easy months in which to put their energy into establishing roots, rather than into seeds or mere survival. As a result, they tend to be far stronger by the following summer than those which have to struggle through their first summer without a proper root system. The whole process is easier for the homeowner.
5. Garden and landscape designers and installers tend to be far more available later in the season, due to the above-mentioned tendency for most people to rush to put in their gardens for summer enjoyment.
Downsides to putting your garden in in the fall will include less selection of plants for two reasons. First, nurseries order in certain plants only around the season when they are popular. Hellebores and Rhododendrons are prime examples of this. They bloom early and nurseries tend not to re-order them once their annual glory days are finished. Secondly of course, selection will be picked over by this time of year.
A second downside of putting your garden in for the fall is that you must be patient all year.
However, if you are a long-term planner or thrifty individual, fall is, in my opinion, the best time of year to make plans for your new garden. Bonus: you can enjoy the evergreen “bones” of your new garden through winter while anticipating the joy that will unfold once spring arrives.