I favour the here and now when the soil is still warm enough to encourage new root growth before winter bites, and freshly-planted trees and shrubs will not be bothering to grow new foliage – all their energy can go into what’s going on below ground.
But with the best will in the world, and the best planting conditions, things can still – and do – go wrong. And the biggest cause of failure is poor soil and site preparation.
If the hole isn’t big enough, the soil isn’t rich enough, the support stake’s not sturdy enough, and the gardener’s not savvy enough to know when to water, when not to water, when to firm down the soil around those growing roots, and when to leave well alone, then there’s a very good chance that the plant will fail to flourish.
There are other things which can turn a triumph of expectation into a disaster:
Failing to break up the compacted rootball when the plant first arrives so, eventually, the roots continue to grow in a circle and the tree never gets an anchor in its new home.
Planting the wrong tree in the wrong spot (soil too dry, too waterlogged, site too shady, too exposed, too sunny).
And bear in mind that a tree which is struggling is more prone to fall victim to diseases and pests.
Just as a dog is for more than just Christmas, so a shrub, and especially a tree, is for more than just a year or two; sometimes it’s for a lifetime or two – or even more. So get the preparation right, get the aftercare right, and there should be more smiles than tears.
Occasionally, no matter how much preparation and how much care and attention the gardener lavishes, the tree or shrub will fail to thrive. That’s just a fact of life and you have to accept it. But preparation and the right choice of plant will go a long way towards ensuring success.
So, go ahead, plant in autumn. Or wait till next spring. The choice is yours.