Issue: November 15, 2003

Plant shrubs now


I bought some container-grown shrubs at a fall clearance sale. Should I plant them now or just dig the pot into the ground and wait until spring to take them from the pots to plant them in permanent locations?Albuquerque


If the ground hasnāt frozen, I would plant them now. With many woody plants from temperate climates, there is significant root growth in the autumn. Keeping the plants in their pots will prevent the roots from spreading into the soil around the plant. It will be necessary to irrigate during the winter. If the pot has been removed, water can move laterally from surrounding soil to moisten the soil around the roots. If the pot remains, you must take care to moisten the soil inside the pot.

By removing the plant from the pot and applying a thick layer of mulch, you can encourage root growth. The mulch will help keep the soil warm. As the air cools, warm soil stimulates root growth. Check under the mulch once a week to determine when you should moisten the soil. Once the ground freezes, reduce watering to once a month.

There are a few plants that do not transplant well in the autumn, but most plants you are likely to purchase can be planted now. Desert willow is one that you should treat carefully. If you do plant it now, irrigate it immediately, and then water very sparingly through the winter.

I'm glad that you were not considering leaving the shrubs in containers above the soil. Roots do not acclimate to low temperatures as well as the above ground portion of plants, so they are more likely to freeze in a container above the soil. This is made more likely by the fact that the container (which is often black) heats the soil during the day and freezes during the night. A pot on the surface of the soil is also more prone to drying than one that is dug into the soil.

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Send your gardening questions to Yard and Garden, ATTN: Dr. Curtis Smith NMSU Cooperative Extension Service 9301 Indian School Road, NE, Suite 112 Albuquerque, NM 87112

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. New Mexico State University is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer and educator.

Please join us on Southwest Yard & Garden, a weekly garden program made for gardeners in the Southwest on: KNME-TV Albuquerque at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays, KENW-TV Portales at 10 a.m. Saturdays, and KRWG-TV Las Cruces at 11:30 a.m. Saturdays (repeated at 1 p.m. Thursdays.)