Consumers can drive nursery folks crazy with their buying patterns. There is a belief in this country that you plant on the 24th of May and that?s it for the season. But growers and experienced gardeners know that right now is the very best time to plant hardy perennials and many trees and shrubs. It?s also perfect for dividing plants ? warm days without searing sun and cool evenings.

I really hate to add to the doom and gloom about the economy. But think about this: Wholesalers are making their orders right now at the current value of the Canadian dollar. When they come in next year we?re going to see prices skyrocketing. Many of the big growers are actually finishers. They may do some propagating themselves but much of the stock comes in as plugs from the US and then grown on to the sizes required by retail outlets. So if you?re a wise gardener it?s off to the nursery now.

I?m about to go on a shopping spree that will startle even my overused credit card. I can see with far too much ease every hole and mistake I?ve made these past few months and muse on how I want things to look next year. I can get pretty ruthless this time of year mainly because I can feel the cold breath of winter just ahead. Out come the under-performers, the scraggly and the just plain boring. In go all those great plants on sale as we speak. Bargains are to be found in all the big nurseries and catalogues are just gearing up.

I?m talking beyond bulbs at this moment. Though this is a wonderful opportunity to pop bulbs in along with next year?s new perennials. Combine bulbs with perennials and shrubs to cover up the yellowing foliage. Put some bone meal into the bottom of bulb holes but be very careful using this stuff. I worry about mad cow disease and wonder just whose ground up bones make up this stuff. Bulbs will figure out how to get to the surface even if you?ve planted them a little too close to other plants.

You can, of course, buy fall bloomers with actual blooms on them. Enjoy them for a couple of days to make sure they are in the right spot and then take courage in hand and chop them back to about the same height as the root system is deep (if the roots are about 7.5cm deep cut back to 7.5cm).

Speaking of roots. If plants have been sitting around in containers all summer at the nursery be very gentle with them. Tease them out of their containers and allow time for a good soak. They?ve probably been planted in soilless soil and will go into shock when they are place in the real stuff. Any strangulating roots will have to be sliced into. They should go straight into well-prepared beds. I can?t emphasize how important this is. Make sure the soil is well worked but don?t add any nitrogen-rich fertilizer since you don?t want to encourage new growth that might be hit by frost.

This is also the ideal time of year to install many of the structural plants such as trees and shrubs. The soil still holds summer warmth, there is plenty of oxygen in it and it?s easy to work with (you?ve been mulching all year and it?s extremely friable). There?s time for the roots to establish themselves before going into dormancy.

This is true for deciduous plants but hold off until spring to plant evergreens since they will keep on transpiring all winter long when you can?t water. This is the season for roses. You order them now and hope to get them into the ground before the ground becomes frozen solid.

When you are putting in trees or shrubs be sure to dig a very wide hole rather than a deep one. The hole should be no deeper than the root system but at least five times the width of the container or root ball. Roots grow laterally making this an important principle. Current thinking also has it that you should not amend the soil unless you fix up an area that will accommodate the roots in five or more years? time. Make sure all plants are well watered if nature doesn?t co-operate. In Ontario we?re in the middle of a drought and many plants are under stress. So keep up the hand watering for another month.