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Hello, Hello! In this article I’m going to be talking about the optimum time for planting your garden. Now just to make this article real for people, I actually wrote it after doing a Facebook live from a garden that had just been planted 2 weeks earlier. I did this because a lot of people are absolutely terrified to plant in summer. (This article is being written at the start of February 2024). They think, oh it’s too hot to plant in summer. Now the truth of the matter is if you’re like me (and I’m not that young anymore) whenever it gets up over 30 degrees, I feel terrible. I really feel like my body doesn’t do very well in the heat and I really start to struggle when it gets to 40 degrees. Like many people, it’s easy to transfer our feelings about the heat to our plants.

A greenhouse in a backyard with plants in it.But think about this, all nurserymen like me invest fortunes in building hothouses for our plants to grow in. What do “hot” houses do? They make it hot! And I’ve got a growing nursery in Shepparton with hothouses (or glasshouses) and I can tell you that it’s five or six degrees hotter up there than it is in Melbourne most days and the plants just love it. They going crazy there. So basically, plants LOVE heat!

A beautifully designed garden with lush grass and vibrant flowers, all basking in the warm sun.

Native VioletsThat’s the first thing to know about plants and most people just don’t realise it, but plants really do love heat. We humans might suffer and it might be a bit terrible for us when the weather gets too hot, but plants love it. To prove this point, I took a look at some of the plants in this new garden that had just been planted literally 2 weeks earlier. Some plants in the garden had beautiful new growth on them, so they were loving the conditions and starting to grow. In fact, the Native Violets were covered in new growth. And if I was to have pulled some of the plants out of the ground, I’d had found little white roots growing. Even though the plant might have only been in for maybe 10 days, I’d still have found little white roots.

Three thermometers with different temperatures in a garden design - stock image.Now when trying to work out when is the best time to plant in Melbourne, it’s important to realise what sort of climate we have here compared to other parts of the world. For example, I remember going to a nursery in Texas and basically it’s so hot in Texas in the summer and so cold in the winter that this nursery there was only open for a couple of months in springtime, which is the season that is between when it’s raging cold and raging hot. And that’s the only time when people in this Northern part of Texas, will plant anything. It’s just this little period between the end of winter and the start of summer. They plant their plants then and then for the rest of the year it’s just too hot or too cold to plant anything.

A garden full of colorful flowers, designed with a stunning path. Melbourne

Now Melbourne isn’t that hot and it isn’t that cold in extremes compared to Texas and so you can plant almost any day of the year. There’s not really a day of the year that you couldn’t plant in Melbourne.

But what really is the optimum time for planting. Now, if we were to go and ask most people, they’d say springtime is best for planting in Melbourne. And I think that comes from our European settlement history and that some many people in our country’s past came from Europe and springtime was a great time to plant over there. And so it’s more of a cultural thing than a reality.

A garden design calendar featuring lush green backgrounds.

In actual fact, my time when I start planting in Melbourne is late January, early February. And my absolutely perfect time for planting in Melbourne, I think, is the 25th of February. And the reason why is that you find on the 25th of February, that your nights are longer and they are getting cooler, but your days are lovely and warm. So the soil is beautiful and warm.

A man carefully tending to the intricate garden design, kneeling down amidst a beautiful array of flowers and plants.What this means is if you put a plant in and keep it moist, it’ll take off and grow straight away. So end January and February is a great time to plant. It’s much better than Springtime. Basically, what you need to understand about plants is that the hotter it is, the more humidity they require. So basically you can plant in the hottest part of summer, and as long as you keep up the moisture, you’re fine. Now, if you are planting and you’re just starting to get, a little bit of dew in the morning – a nice, cool morning – followed by a lovely warm, sunny day, it’s great weather for growing. So long as you are keeping your plants moist, you’re OK. And that’s where people get into trouble and fall down is keeping their plants moist.

Now there are little tricks that you can use to keep your plants moist. First of all, obviously, watering is the answer. I mean, if you don’t water, then you’re really in trouble. But how you water and when you water is all very, very important.

watering garden with hose

SaturAid Granular Soil Wetter 2.5 litres, enough for 50m2

First if you were planting in summer, the first thing I would do is that I’d put in some soil wetter. Now you can buy a nice little powdered soil wetter, and you sprinkle it on the soil around the plants. The one that we sell is called Saturate, but there’s lots of good soil wetters out there – they’re all fairly similar to each other. Basically you just sprinkle them on the soil and the first watering takes it in. All soil wetters are just an agricultural detergent that coats the soil particles and that breaks down the surface tension. So the water, instead of it all running around the place and running down the hill, the water just absorbs into the soil as quick as you put it on.

The next thing to realise about watering is that in Melbourne, over the past big drought, it was heavily promoted to have these little water handguns to water with. And most people have a half inch hose on their tap, and this combined with the little handgun heavily restricts the water flow.

What I would say about that is, and it’s a little bit controversial, is that if you are using a half inch hose and a little plastic trigger watering gun, I would say to you the rather rude and shocking thing – that you are not really watering. And the reason is that those thin little hoses have tremendous water resistance. You can actually hear the hissing sound when you use them and that hissing sound is the sound of you putting the brakes on the water. So this has been designed to hold the water back and use less water so as to save water. The trouble is, it doesn’t get your plants wet.

garden hoseWhat you really need is a three-quarter inch hose. Now the water resistance with one of these would be maybe a quarter of the water resistance for a half-inch hose. Now if you were to test a half-inch hose against a three-quarter inch hose on the same tap, with the tap turned on to the same full amount, the difference in the amount of water coming out would be 4 times greater. Yes 4 times more water!

special hose shower head nozzle

The other thing to throw away is not just the half-inch hose but the little plastic squirting gun and get yourself a proper head for the three-quarter inch hose. I always use one that was designed in America to have a large amount of water come out, but the water comes out and falls on your plants gently. It was designed to mimic rain so it wouldn’t damage the plants or wash away the soil. The key difference you will notice if you switch to this combination of the three-quarter inch hose and the rain nozzle, is there is virtually no sound as the water comes out. That’s because there’s no resistance to the water coming out like you get with the smaller hose and the little plastic gun.

So if you combine soil wetter with a three-quarter inch hose and a proper watering head, and you really get some water onto your plants, what happens is that you’re really actually watering. Now I’ll admit the watering head and hose are not cheap but they’re far better. But once you’ve used this combination, it’s very hard to go back to the old way because if you’re putting 4 times as much water onto your plants, then you can do your watering much quicker and much more effectively.

Say you’ve only got 20 minutes to water your plants, well you will do a much better job in that time with this combination. You’ll REALLY be watering your plants, not pretending to water them. Using this combination, you’ll find that your plants actually will do better planted now than at any other time of year.

watering garden bed plantsAnother thing about watering is your technique. It’s better to water in stages. Don’t just stand still and water the same area for ages. What I do, is I’ll walk up and down the garden bed and I’ll go up and down three or four times and I’ll put the water on in sort of layers. I think water goes in best in layers with a little bit of time between the layers. So it’s kind of like putting on layers of icing on a cake or something like that.

So as I said before, my optimum time for planting is after the 25th of February. You can keep planting right through till about the end of April because you’ve still got plenty of warmth in the ground, plenty of sunshine, but the worst of the heat is over so the evaporation rate is lower. But you’ve still got nice warm, sunny days. Once you get into say, planting in May, the ground’s become much colder, so the roots won’t start growing until September or October. They’re just sitting there in the cold, unable to grow, unable to do anything.

A garden plant with a green leaf and roots.Root growth is so important when planting. Most people don’t realise most of your root growth occurs in autumn, so you get lots and lots of root growth. But you only get a very little bit of top growth if any at all, so it doesn’t look like the plant is growing but underneath, in the ground it is. It’s establishing itself. So then when spring comes, you’ve got this beautifully well-rooted and well-established plant, and it’s going to go absolutely crazy in spring and it’ll grow like crazy right into the summer.

That’s why I do all my potting of new plants over the six weeks through February and March and that’ll give me beautiful big bushy plants to sell in the springtime.

People ask me about how to handle clay soil when planting and to me it’s all about making sure, if your soil is fairly compacted, is to dig it up and mix in some good soil with the clay or good potting mix to give it some porosity. It’s the holes in the soil that you need to let the water flow through and the roots to breathe.

So just to prove that planting in February is OK, I want to go through some of the plants I planted in this garden I visited recently for this article just to show you that you can plant a variety of plants.

First there were Native Violets which are very heat and dry sensitive, and they were looking absolutely fabulous. Then some Correa alba balls, which will grow into lovely big balls, and they had masses of new growth on them. There was also a Japanese maple. Now people worry about Japanese maples, they worry about them being a little tender, but the one I saw planted recently was looking really, really nice and it had new growth coming on it.

This garden was a bit of a fusion style garden. It had a Gymea Lily and some Silver Wave succulents and some Cordylines – so a real mixture of things. They even had some Ficus hedge and all of these plants I just mentioned were all doing well after being planted in summer. They will get lots and lots of root growth below the ground and a little bit of growth over Autumn. And then by next Christmas, that garden will look like it’s been here for years. So you can see that late summer is the best time of year for planting.

established garden

Digging hole to plant treeNow because everyone thinks the best time for planting is springtime if you do decide to plant in summer is that you’ll find some of your best discounts on plants are happening at the end of summer. You’ll actually find great bargains because most people aren’t planting at this time of the year and so the nurseries need to keep their staff busy so they offer big discounts at the end of summer. So not only can you get the garden you want, you can get it on the cheap. And if you plant it properly and water it properly, like I’ve explained here, you’ll find yourself saving money and having extra good plants, because you’ve planted at a sort of secret, but optimum time.

A couple of extra tips when planting. Say for example you had bought a whole bunch of Box Leaf Privet and you were going to plant them in a row to create a long hedge. Well what I’d do to prepare that area for planting is, you want to get rid of any other weeds or grasses or anything that’s currently growing in the place you want to plant. Give it a good spray of something like Roundup to kill all your perennial weeds in that area. Then I’d leave it for 48 hours. And then I’d dig it over and dig it nice and deep.

A bucket of osmocote all purpose.And if I was in a place with really hard and difficult soil, I’d be inclined to add in some potting mix with some good soil into every planting hole. I’d use a little bit of Osmocote and you’d really be in business. If you planted some Box Leaf Privet in little 3” pots, by Christmas you could have them up to nearly a metre tall.

So you’re going to get maximum growth if you plant at the right time as I explained.

Hydrangeas blooming in a field with green grass. AutumnIf you’re planting something like Hydrangeas in summer then the simple rule is – the wetter the better. They love the water. And what you’ll find when you’ve got the correct moisture content in the soil for Hydrangeas, the leaves sort of sit up beautifully and if you let them dry them out a bit, they start to hang a little bit. So they really tell you, they talk to you actually with their leaves. If you keep them well-watered, and keep that foliage up nice and erect and don’t just sort of squirt the top with water twice a day or anything like that, but give them a really good water every couple of days, a nice deep soak, the Hydrangeas will love you.

So that’s my advice on the optimum time to plant. Mid to late summer. Grab the bargains at your nursery. Plant them well. Water them really, really well. Get that bigger hose and that great watering nozzle, the aluminium one. You can get it on our website here.

If you do all this, you’ll have a big blooming garden in Spring, when everyone else is just starting to plant theirs!

Feeling inspired to create your own garden, but want some expert advice? Try our one-on-one garden design service with Chris. Together you’ll come up with a selection of plants along with a layout plan that gives you the look you want, as well as being suitable for your local soil and conditions.

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