By Jesse Eastman
While a savvy gardener can successfully plant virtually any time of the year, there are certain seasons that are particularly well-suited for planting, and paying attention to what and when you plant can greatly increase your success in the landscape. I’ve written before about the benefits of fall planting, especially for deciduous trees and shrubs (read more here). Another prime planting season is early spring. While some of the reasons for early spring planting are very similar to fall planting, getting plants into the ground in March and April has some unique benefits that can help your yard move from good to great!
Generally speaking, early spring is the time of year when most nurseries and garden centers have received tons of new stock, but most customers aren’t shopping yet. If there’s a particular plant you’ve been having a hard time finding, now is the time to look. Even if you call and the plant you want isn’t ready yet (we start our perennial production in late February), you can often call to reserve rare plants. That way, they are available to you when everyone else is wishing they had gotten an earlier start. If you are looking for a plant that we don’t normally carry, the earlier you let us know, the more likely it is we can find it from our network of suppliers. Just like we run out of certain plants as the season progresses, our vendors’ supplies tend to dwindle as we move into the heart of spring.
- Root Establishment
The first step in most plants’ spring growth cycle is a push of new roots. This generally happens before any visible top growth or swelling of buds takes place. By planting before it is warm enough for top growth to occur, you can ensure that this root growth is taking place in the ground, where the plant will live, instead of in the pot, where those roots will get more bound up and dense the longer they grow.
- Reduce Transplant Shock
Planting early and letting your plants enjoy a jump-start on root growth also reducing the initial stress of transplant shock. Transplant shock is a general term for the stress that a plant experiences when it is moved, either from one location in your yard to another, or from a pot into the ground. The planting process can inadvertently damage the small hair-like roots on plants and exposes roots to potentially dry and damaging air. It also usually involves a transition into an unfamiliar soil, which takes time for the plant to adjust to. If the plant has time to overcome these stresses before it has produced foliage and other new growth, it can then focus more of its effort on healthy top growth instead of on surviving transplant shock.
- Improve First-Year Performance
Plants that have time to settle into their new home and overcome transplant shock are now ready to grow. Imagine you plant a perennial in late May that normally blooms in early June. It may still be suffering mild transplant shock by the time it is supposed to be blooming. This means you will likely see fewer, if any flowers in the first year it is in the ground. Compare that to the same perennial that is instead planted in mid-March. By the time it is ready to bloom in June, it has had three months to settle in, and its bloom will be much more satisfying!
Originally published on March 3rd, 2016. Updated on March 3rd, 2023.