When to Plant


This article refers to containerized (potted) plants. The native plants that we grow and sell at Prairie Nursery are hardy perennials, and most are hardy to zones 3 or 4. These hardy native plants can be installed just about any time, from spring thru fall. (We ship plants during the spring and fall to avoid shipping during the heat of summer.)

In the spring, you can safely install your plants when the night time temperatures are consistently above freezing. In the fall, plants should be installed at least six weeks before the ground freezes. (See Tips for Planting in Fall.) While spring is undoubtedly the most popular time for planting, fall has pluses, too. Here’s a small chart outlining some of the main pros and cons of spring and fall planting.

 

PLANTING IN SPRING
ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES
In spring the plants top-growth has greater vitality. Most of the plant energy will go into growth above ground to produce foliage, flowers, fruit, and branches.
Spring planting is a great pleasure and the rewards are soon visible.
The fluctuations in spring weather (freeze-thaw cycles) can negatively impact plants if they are installed too early.

The number of good planting days can be limited by the frequently changing weather of spring.



PLANTING IN FALL
ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES
Fall-planted gardens & landscapes are poised to take off with a strong start and new growth in the spring.

All of the plant energy goes into developing a strong root system.

Above ground there may be little to no growth. The top of the plants are often heading into dormancy, and plants look a little "tired."

Planting in the fall runs the risk of some plant loss, over the winter. (Learn how to avoid plant loss with Tips for Planting in Fall).

 

Looking for Blooms the First Year?

If you want to see blooms during the first year, then focus on the bloom time, and follow these simple rules:
- Perennials that bloom in spring or early summer should be installed in the fall.
- Perennials that bloom in late summer or fall should be installed in spring.

 

When is it Best to Plant in the Fall?

“Ephemerals” are plants that bloom in spring and then go dormant during the summer. We sell ephemerals as  bare root stock and recommend early fall as the optimal time to plant these spring bloomers. Planting these species in the fall provides an establishment period for the roots and supports the show of flowers the following spring.  Whether bulb, corm or rhizome, bare root material is best installed in early fall when the ground is still warm. Installing early in the fall will give the roots enough time to establish themselves in the soil before the ground freezes.

 

Caution for Planting in Early Spring and Late Fall

The natives that we offer are hardy perennials, and as such, are able to survive a spring frost. However, “frost heave” can be an issue if the plants are installed too early in the spring. Frost heave occurs as a result of repeated freeze-thaw weather cycles in the spring. The freeze-thaw cycles can cause transplants to lift up out of the soil when they haven’t had enough time to establish a connection with the soil. Frost heave can kill young transplants. Frost heave can also affect fall transplants. When plants are installed late in the fall the roots don't have enough time to establish a strong connection to the soil. This makes them susceptible to any freeze-thaw fluctuations in the following spring.

 

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