Budget-conscious gardeners should be expanding their ornamental gardens now.

Yes, plant nurseries advertise in the spring, exhorting people who have been cooped up all winter to buy plants and get out in the garden. The truth is, the plants are just as happy being planted in the fall as in the spring.

And the nurseries usually begin discounting prices on their small trees and shrubs shortly after Labor Day. The staff has to “heel in” – a technical term for temporarily planting – any unsold shrubs before the ground begins to freeze. If nurseries sell the shrubs to you now, even at discounted prices, they are better off than if they have to pay someone to move all the shrubs and heel them in for winter.

So, since you are going to be getting a bargain, I suggest you pick out a fairly expensive plant – something like a Japanese tree lilac (a Cary Award winner in 2000) or a Stewartia (a Cary Award winner in 1997) and install it in a place worthy of such a statement plant. Cary Awards, by the way, are presented each year by the Tower Hill Botanical Garden in Massachusetts for plants particularly suited to New England but underused by the nursery industry.

With such a great plant, you will have to dig a proper hole. Actually, you should follow these instructions for any small tree or shrub, but the cost of failure is bigger with a statement plant.

The hole should be three times the width of and as deep as the root ball. The soil should come to the trunk flare, where the trunk gets wider. In most good nurseries, the root ball – whether the plant is balled-and-burlapped or in a pot – will come to the proper height on the trunk, but sometimes they make mistakes. Once you center the shrub in the hole, make sure it is straight and that the decision-maker in the household (that’s my wife Nancy in our case) likes which side of the tree is facing out.

Some nursery professionals will tell you that you should look at the tree’s stem, see which side has lichens or moss growing on it, and have that side face north. That way, the tree will have the same geographical orientation that it had when it was growing in the nursery. In my experience, this never happens in real life.

Once the tree is in the hole, fill the hole with water. Let it drain, and then fill it again. (If the hole doesn’t drain, you’ve got problems – fill in the hole and find another, better location.) Then take some of the soil you dug to make the hole (you either put it in your wheelbarrow or on top of a tarp spread on your lawn), add compost and a couple of handfuls of commercial mycorrhizae (a soil fungus that helps roots take up nutrients, available in bags at hardware stores and nurseries) and fill the hole with this mixture to the root flare.

Water again, and pack down the soil; landscapers call this walking around the plant circle – wear your boots. Add more soil, and water again, leaving a ring of soil cut in the lawn around the trunk so that when you water, you create a pool that will slowly sink to the roots of the tree.

Keep watering until the ground freezes (and remember, the ground in Maine doesn’t always freeze before Thanksgiving). You should probably put a gallon or more of water on the plant any day that it doesn’t rain, but use the finger test to ascertain soil moisture. Just stick a finger into the soil and if it goes down to your largest knuckle without feeling damp, it’s time to water.

Proper watering is the key to getting a plant that you can enjoy for the rest of your life.

Maybe this fall, but more likely next spring, put mulch around the plant. The mulch, like the soil, should not go above the trunk flare. In shopping-center landscapes, you often see volcanoes of mulch up around tree trunks. This will eventually kill trees.

Properly planted, these new trees and shrubs should outlive you.