If you’ve been in Las Vegas for awhile, you’ve probably heard people refer to the fall here as our “second spring.” Sounds lovely, I know, but what does that actually mean to you and your plants?
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, fall is the absolute best time of year in the desert. Spring’s nice, no question, but it does tend to get a bit windy, or “breezy” as they phrase it on the news for the benefit of the tourists. In fact, breezes that could carry you to Reno come through the Valley pretty much weekly, making it tough to enjoy working in the yard and nearly impossible to get a decent-sized tree to stand up straight.
On top of that, you can’t really shake the thought that summer’s getting dressed and ready for an extended stay in Vegas. It’s only got one quick stop to make before it gets here, and that’s just to sit down to a nice lunch of roasted habaneras and ghost peppers, washed down with a pint of sriracha so it can belch out searing heat at us for the next four months without a break.
And you know what? Now that summer’s given it some thought, what the hell? It’ll have another pint for the road. Why not?
But then, like a reward for surviving the summer heat, autumn comes. Those first few days in the lower 90’s are sheer bliss. Then the nights start to cool down more and more, dropping into the 60’s before you know it. October and November are nothing short of glorious, with crisp, brightly-lit days and evenings just brisk enough for a sweater. Best of all, you get to rest well at night, smug in the knowledge that for the next few months, the national weather forecasts will predict bitter and unlivable cold for the rest of the world, while you’ll be sitting under a pretty palm tree and laughing maniacally at your good fortune. Oh yes, life is sweet.
The thing is, it’s pretty darned sweet for your plants, too. They may not be consciously aware of the fact that summer’s behind us and a mild winter is just around the corner, but there’s no question that the cooler temperatures are a whole lot easier on their systems. And that’s just part of the reason that for many plants in the low desert, getting them in the ground in October or November is actually a much better option than planting in the springtime.
There are a couple of other very good reasons that some trees and shrubs prefer being planted in the fall.
- First, their roots are about to become more active anyway. Oftentimes, people think plants that lose their leaves in the wintertime look dead, but nothing could be further from the truth. When they don’t need to expend energy producing leaves and flowers, deciduous trees and shrubs are putting their efforts into developing a nice, healthy root system. Things may look quiet up top, but believe me, there’s a lot going on below the surface. Getting them planted in the fall means that you’ll have a fairly well-established plant that’s ready to bush out nicely in the spring.
- Fall planting will allow your new greenery to ease into the summer heat. For many evergreen plants, our mild winters don’t present much of a challenge. What can be a bit of shock to their systems, however, is our intense summer heat, even for those trees and shrubs that can take a lot of sun once they’re established. This means that if you’re planting in a spot that gets crazy hot in the summer months, it’s usually best to put your plants in around October, in order to allow them the chance to get settled in before shit starts to get real next June.
Let’s take a look at some of the trees and shrubs that are best planted in the fall…
Fruit trees and other deciduous trees
For one thing, the roots of these trees are about to go into hyperdrive, as previously mentioned. For another, you’re much more likely to get fruit in the spring on trees that produce early in their life, like pomegranates, figs, peaches, plums and nectarines.
Phosphates, which is what plants need in order to produce flowers (which in turn become fruit) is the same nutrient they use in order to develop their root system. You’ll still usually have to wait at least a couple of years for nuts and some other fruit, but it’s much easier on the tree to be planted in autumn rather than in the spring winds. Sorry, breezes.
The same principles that apply to deciduous trees apply to grapevines. Plant in the fall and you can normally count on a decent little crop of grapes the next summer. Plant in the spring and you may get some fruit, but not as much as you could have.
When it comes to roses, it’s both a matter of allowing the plants to get their roots down and of letting them get as adjusted to its new home as possible before it gets hot. Plus, they’ll be much better able to put more energy into providing you with a beautiful flower show all spring if they’ve had a chance to settle in properly before then.
Conifers and Evergreen Shrubs
Conifers are the pines and junipers everyone tends to think of when they hear the word ‘evergreen’, but there are plenty of other evergreen shrubs that should be planted in the fall as well, for much the same reasons. I’m referring to leafy green shrubs like privets, hawthorns, photinias and euonymus, all of which are capable of taking quite a lot of sun, but all of which are just as capable of scorching if they’re not well-established when the crazy heat hits.
Think about it, it’s not at all uncommon for us to get to 100° in May, so even if you’re on the ball and put these plants in the ground in March, that means they’ll only have a few weeks to get accustomed to the site before the high heat comes. By putting them in the ground in the fall, they’ll have had several months to put down roots and become acclimated to the heat at a more gradual rate instead. This can go a long way toward helping your plants avoid heat stress during their first summer in your yard and put them on the path to a long and healthy life.
Aren’t there some plants that would be happier with being planted in the spring, you ask? Oh, sure. There’s always an exception to the rule, if for no other reason than to keep us all nice and discombobulated. Fortunately, the plants that prefer spring planting do have one thing in common, which you can read about here.
Now with winter just around the corner, you do understand what this means, don’t you? We’re smack dab in the middle of the best time for planting in Las Vegas, people. Make sure you spend the next few weeks wisely and get yourself some amazing stuff to plant!