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Can You Plant in Michigan in the Late Fall or Early Winter?

Why NOT!

Personal experience and observation have taught me that you can plant during these cold months. There are some factors that I believe should be considered, but why limit the planting to the warmer months? There are situations that just do not work out for that timing. Of course, there are risks and you need to weigh those risks for each situation.

Let’s talk about the things that can determine if this should be done.  Is the ground frozen?  If so, then you are going to need machinery to dig holes to the proper size for the plants.  If you do this by hand, be prepared for it to be much harder to dig. Personal experience also had taught me that if you are too cold during this task, you are more likely to cut corners and not dig either deep enough or large enough the plant and you will then force the plant in place. Take the time to do it right. You, and the plant, will be happier in the end.

Are you sourcing your plants from local nurseries?  This is important, as the plants you purchase locally are already acclimated to the weather conditions we are experiencing.  Trees and shrubs in the nursery are sitting in pots, ball and burlap or sometimes sunk into the ground for winter.  Either way they have already done what they consider necessary to survive.  I’m not confident that mail order plants from different climates is a good idea.  If you receive a plant from an area that has weather different from ours, you will be submitting that plant to shock conditions. A plant that goes from warm day time temps to our consistent cold temps may not respond well. This doesn’t mean that it can’t work, it’s just an added risk.

Water.  Ground moisture is still very important to consider.  While the part of the plant you see above ground may look completely dormant, the roots are still taking in water, although at a slower rate.  If you cannot get water to the plant location, you may want to consider waiting until spring, when hoses are easier to deal with.  It could be possible that the plant could get enough water via rain and snow melt, however, you cannot count on that.  If you do use hoses to supplement water needs, be sure to unhook your hose and move it into the garage to minimize freezing damage.  Also turn off your water spigot, between use, to avoid issues.

Another issue is finding the plants you desire.  Many nurseries are closed for the winter months, some wholesale nurseries are open on a limited or appointment only basis.  At times the stock is also limited as many nurseries don’t plan on bringing in new stock late in the season.  If it means something to you, you will find a way to get that plant.  It just may take a bit more effort and time.

What types of plants are ok to plant?  I have been confident with trees and woody shrubs. There may be some of these plants that just don’t respond favorably to winter planting.  If you’re not sure which plants, reach out and let’s talk.  Anything that is border line in our zone, may be best left for spring, after the danger of harsh weather is gone.

Is it ok to plant perennials?  As a rule, I stay away from perennials at this time of year unless they did not cost anything.  I’m just not as confident that it’s a great idea to plant something I’ve made a financial investment in when it is this risky. I personally prefer to see the growth habits of perennials prior to planting them.  Even in the prime growing season, perennials will look very different from each other.  It’s just the nature of Mother Nature. Most perennials that you would find this time of year are going to look like a dead plant in a pot.  The root stock is the important part, but most of us are not sure of whether that root stock is in great shape or not. Of course, if you have a perennial that needs to be moved, or planted, then do it.  For instance, if you plant perennials in pots, they are not likely to make it through the winter, so rather than just excepting a loss, go ahead and plant it in the ground.  And once again a bit of water now and then will be a good idea, but a jug of water is much easier to haul out to a plant than a hose and will be plenty of water as a time.

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