Gardening: November planting has risks, rewards

Nancy Szerlag
Special to The Detroit News

If you’re a bargain-hunting gardener, there is no better time to shop for perennials, trees and shrubs than at the end of the season. Great buys can be had for pennies on the dollar, but as those of us who have gardened for a time know, there is risk involved in November planting.

Two of the biggest make-or-break factors to the success of late fall planting are soil temperatures and moisture content. And while we can’t control the weather, we can make sure newly planted plants stay well watered until the ground freezes. Deep watering right after planting will get them off to a good start, but from then on if the planting area gets less than an inch of rain water weekly, the plants, be they perennials, trees or shrubs, need to be hand watered.

Don’t depend on irrigation systems to do the deed, as they are usually timed for watering turf and don’t deliver enough water exactly where it’s needed.

The soil in the newly planted rootball must be kept moist, but not sodden, and due to the soilless mix most new plants are planted in, the soil around the roots dries out more quickly than the surrounding area. So when in doubt use your finger to check the moisture content at a depth of 2 inches.

A 3- to 4-inch layer of organic mulch, such as shredded bark, leaves, pine needles or a combination of the above, will protect the soil from rapid temperature fluctuations and help hold in moisture. Don’t let the mulch touch the trunks, branches or stems of trees or plants.

For the past two seasons we have used the biologically enhanced starter soil amendment Assure Transplant Success in all our new plantings at the Rochester OPC display gardens and the results have been outstanding. ATS contains 8 varieties of mycorrhizae, both Ecto and Endo, along with 23 strains of beneficial organisms, humic acid, kelp and the micro and macronutrients plants need to thrive.

When using a transplant starter amendment that contains mycorrhizae, it’s important to get these beneficial fungi directly at the plant’s root zone, so mix it with the back fill soil according to package directions. In the case of fine powders, I sprinkle it on the sides of the root ball and in the bottom of the planting hole as well.

Assure Transplant Success is available at English Gardens. To find it in your area call (248) 760-9342.

Nancy Szerlag is a master gardener and Metro Detroit freelance writer. Her column appears Fridays in Homestyle. To ask her a question go to and click on Ask Nancy. You can also read her previous columns at