Gardening: Fall planting has its advantages

Cool weather makes the fall an ideal time to plant or transplant anything in the garden.

Start by prepare the area to be planted. Loosen and amend the soil. Extra time and money spent on the soil will make the difference between a struggling garden and one that sustains itself.

When planting a tree or shrub, dig a hole that is three times as wide as and slightly deeper than the rootball. In the areas where the soil contains a large amount of clay, it is best to either score the sides of the hole or dig a square one. Round holes with smooth sides can act like a pot and the roots will circle the area as opposed to penitrating into new soil. Roots need to form in the new soil to supply the plant with nutrients.

Fill the hole with water and let it recede. Next, remove the pot and look at the rootball. If half of the surface is covered by roots they will need to be pruned to encourage the roots to grow into the surrounding soil. One way is to cut two lines through the bottom and part way up the sides of the rootball forming a letter X.. The other method is to selectively pull and prune roots using secateurs until the roots know longer form the shape of the pot.

Place a mound of soil in the middle of the hole and place the rootball on top of the mound spreading the roots outwards. Fill in the hole with existing soil and press down firmly. Water the plant and add more soil if needed.

A common mistake is to plant too deep. The most productive roots are in the top foot (30 cm) of the soil. Plant them deeper and the roots have trouble gathering nutrients causing the plants to slowly starve.

Lilies and Peonies are two plants that have traditionally transplanted in the fall.

Carefully dig lily bulbs as they are easily damaged by sharp objects. Separate large clumps of bulbs by gently pulling them apart. Remove and discard any damaged or diseased bulbs. Then replant the bulbs at approximately the same depth as they were growing. If in doubt, always plant bulbs three times deeper than the height of the bulb. Make sure that the soil is mounded over the bulbs as opposed to having dips in the soil. If water settles on top of the bulbs they have a tendency to rot.

Bulbs can be purchased through stores, online or local growers. When purchasing bulbs look for large clean bulbs that are firm to the touch.

Once peonies have been dug they should be left in the sun for about an hour before being replanted. Expect them to wilt slightly which makes them less brittle therfore less likely to break. Remove old and dead parts of the plant using a sharp knife or trowel. The remainder can be replanted making sure that each new plant has at least one eye. All eyes need to be planted no deeper than one inch (2.45 cm)

Peonies that are planted too deep will not bloom. Instead of digging the plants up to be replanted, remove soil around the plants stems until the eyes are at the proper depth.

Fall planting has the advantage of being able to see where all but the spring bulbs are planted. It also allows plants time to put out roots before the ground freezes.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at

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