Miss Floribunda: Test soil now for fall planting

September 10, 2012

Dear Miss Floribunda,

I’m yet another gardening newbie come to Hyattsville. One of the housewarming presents given to me when I moved in this June was a crepe myrtle in a pot. What with settling in and one thing or another, I haven’t gotten around to planting the poor little tree. I’ve kept it watered and alive in its pot and it has even flowered. Should I wait till next spring to plant it in the ground? If so, how do I keep it alive over the winter?

New Kid on Kennedy Street

MISS FLORIBUNDA —

Dear New Kid,

First of all, welcome to Hyattsville. Next, I assume you have noticed that summer here is hellishly hot and rainfall is unreliable. It is fortunate that you didn’t plant your tree in June because it would have had a very hard time surviving the particularly brutal July we suffered this year.

In this area, savvy people never plant trees in summer, or even spring, but preferably in late September and early October. While the blistering heat has abated by then, the soil is still warm enough for roots to establish themselves quickly. There are fewer pests and disease problems in fall, too.  You have at least six weeks before the first frost around Thanksgiving.  After the hard frosts come, the trees go dormant till spring and then have a few weeks to get strong before the onslaught of our dog days. The one exception would be a full-grown tree that needs to be moved from a place in which it has long been established. Because it would have to be dormant when transplanted, it could only be planted in early spring. Few of us encounter that kind of situation.

Most gardeners here plant not only trees but the majority of perennials in the fall. Personally, I have learned that if I can’t get rose bushes planted very early in spring, the traditional time, it’s best to keep them in pots in semi-shade till I can plant them in fall. Many vegetable gardeners start a second garden then, with Chinese cabbage, leeks, radishes, spinach and other vegetables that go to seed very soon when you plant them in spring but which are even improved by light frost in fall.

This is also the best time of year for testing your soil. Dr. Agronomosky, our soil expert, discourages do-it-yourself kits. Instead, he suggests, call the University of Maryland Home and Garden Information Center at 800.342.2507. It’s staffed weekdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Or you can visit the center’s website to learn how to collect soil for testing and where to take it.

Last but not least, my cousin Parsimony brought up another point to consider when making your gardening to-do list: Nurseries have good sales at the end of summer. Although selection may not be as wide as it was earlier this year, you can profit from some significant bargains.


The Hyattsville Horticultural Society will not meet in September, but please address any questions to floribundav@gmail.com.