I’m often asked, “Is it too late to plant?” The answer is usually no. Most trees, shrubs and perennials will do better if planted in the fall rather than in the spring. The ground is still relatively warm and the outside air is on the cooler side. This allows the plant to focus on growing roots rather than foliage. And then there’s the bonus that rain is generally sufficient at this time of year, as long as you water the plants when you first plant them. Just remember that evergreens need more water as they continue using it over the winter and you will need to supplement the rain for them. When you plant in the spring, the plants are just starting to get established when they have to deal with heat and drier conditions. Planting in the spring means you have to be good about watering. Planting in the fall is ideal for those people who forget to water now and then. I’ve planted a number of trees, a few shrubs and a bunch of perennials lately. They got watered at the time that I planted them and have since been forgotten. You will be much further ahead by planting in the fall, rather than waiting until the spring; sometimes as much as two seasons ahead, depending on the plant. The type of soil you have is usually the determining factor as to how late you can plant. If, under your garden soil, you have clay, then you have to be mindful of frost heave. When temperatures fluctuate and there is sufficient moisture in the soil, you get a freeze-thaw, freeze-thaw cycle and the garden soil and plants are pushed up. If the plant hasn’t had time to get its roots established, then it can be pushed out of the garden altogether. More shallowly rooted plants are more susceptible to this. You can take measures to keep frost heave at bay and the easiest is to apply a thick layer of mulch, which will help keep the soil temperatures more constant. We’re very fortunate in the Uxbridge area that many of us have sand under our garden soil. Frost heave is much less of a problem when you are dealing with sand because the drainage is better. I’ve planted well into December over the years with almost no casualties. I even know someone who cleared away snow, which insulated the ground beneath so that it wasn’t frozen, and planted various items. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Of course the other benefit is that garden centres usually have really good sales at this time of year and your dollar goes much further.
When it comes to spring bulbs, this is their time. Daffodils are generally planted earlier than tulips but if you haven’t got around to them yet, don’t worry. There’s still plenty of time.
Hardly anyone ever asks if it’s too late to plant bulbs though. They only want to know how to keep the squirrels out. There is no definitive answer to that one. If someone were to come up with a way of keeping squirrels away from tulip bulbs 100% of the time, they would make a fortune and could retire to a private island where there are no squirrels. That doesn’t mean you have to be completely at their mercy, though. There are some tricks you can use to dissuade them from digging up your bulbs as well as some tricks to keep them from knowing you’ve planted bulbs. First and foremost is to never leave any bulb skins above ground. This is a well-advertised open invitation that dinner is served. There’s the chicken wire method. After placing your bulbs, cover them with a little soil then put chicken wire over the area before filling completely. Be sure to bring the chicken wire down at the sides so that it is a few inches below the level of the bulbs, otherwise the crafty squirrels will just dig down at the sides and go horizontally to get at the bulbs. Blood meal is an old-fashioned deterrent when sprinkled on top of the bulbs and it feeds the bulbs as well. I’m hearing great things about hen manure being even more of a deterrent than blood meal as well as being a good fertilizer, again sprinkled on top. When you’ve finished planting, water your bulbs in well and cover them with leaves to make it look less like a freshly planted bulb garden. Another trick that’s really quite effective is to hold off on planting your bulbs and keep an eye on the weather. When there’s going to be a few days in a row where the temperature will stay below freezing, plant your bulbs the day, or better yet, evening before and water them in. The moist soil will freeze overnight and stay frozen for a couple of days.
Of course there are plenty of bulbs that the squirrels don’t seem to like. Daffodils can be planted now with no worries and nothing says spring like a patch of daffodils. Hyacinths are a personal favourite of mine for spring bulbs. Their fragrance in the garden makes spring chores less of a chore. Allium (the big purple ball on a stick), Fritillaria, Grape Hyacinths, Dutch Iris and Snowdrops are just a few of the bulbs that the squirrels leave alone.