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November 28, 2012

Fall planting can be risky, while planning ahead is another option

By Brian Louwers
C & G Staff Writer

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Experts say planting perennials in the fall can be risky. Bulbs, however, including irises, can safely go in the ground this time of year. Bulbs can be bought online or at some landscape supply stores. Other nurseries don’t carry them because they’re not as popular as perennial plants.

Planting bulbs and perennials isn’t rocket science, but there is science involved. Simply put, they are living things that can and will die, if not handled properly.

While experts say putting anything in the ground this late in the year can be a risky move, particularly if soil conditions are poor or if the ground freezes before plants have time to root properly, the risks can be minimized; that is, as much as Michigan’s often unpredictable late-fall weather will allow.

“As long as the ground is workable, essentially, you can still plant perennials,” said Lorrie Lyon, an assistant manager at Eckert’s Greenhouse & Perennials in Sterling Heights.

Lyon said the chances of perennial success — meaning that the plants will live to see springtime, and not that your gardens and beds will flourish forever — can be increased by adding “good stuff” to the soil. In this case, she suggested compost or aged pine bark.

It’s also important to select plants suitable for your hardiness zone. The vast majority of southeastern lower Michigan is considered Zone 6.

Experts will tell you to remove the tops of any peat pots and to bury moistened pots entirely below ground level to ensure needed moisture gets to the plant.

The roots of plants that are not in containers should be straightened out as much as possible during the planting process to promote proper growth.

It’s also best to follow the spacing and light- requirement guidelines included with many plants to increase the chances of success.

“This is not the greatest time to be putting perennials in the ground,” said Beth Liskiewicz, a manager at the Steinkopf Nursery in Farmington Hills. “It’s risky. They’re not going to root well before wintertime.”

Again, that’s why selecting the right plants is so important.

Liskiewicz said plants like delphinium and foxglove can be unforgiving when planted this late, but plants like salvia, nepeta, sedums and daylily can be more tolerant.

While they don’t sell them at the nursery, Liskiewicz said iris, tulip and daffodil bulbs can go in the ground this time of year, to be enjoyed when they bloom later.

“You have to be patient to anticipate all that color in the spring,” Liskiewicz said, adding that the popularity of the bulbs has waned. “I think people want something more instant. They want instant gratification.”

Plants put in the ground in late fall need plenty of water until the ground freezes, Liskiewicz said.

Those concerned about planting this late can also opt to get a jump on their work next spring by planning gardens and beds.

But be warned: Liskiewicz said not to plan on getting into the garden before April or May. Even if temperatures spike before that, as they did this year, she said working the ground any earlier could damage the soil structure.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Brian Louwers at brianlouwers@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1089.