The coming year, 5782, will mark the Shemitta (Sabbatical) year. Although we have not yet begun the Shemitta year, we must nevertheless still discuss some Halachot which are already pertinent.
The Shemitta year begins from this coming Rosh Hashanah and ends upon the onset of the following Rosh Hashanah (5783). All of the agricultural laws of Shemitta which apply to working the land and Shemitta produce take effect at the beginning of the Shemitta year. (The financial laws of Shemitta apply only at the end of the Shemitta year; thus, we shall discuss them, G-d-willing, at the end of next year).
Since the Shemitta year is right around the corner, this is the time that many people in Israel (where the agricultural laws of Shemitta apply) begin preparing their gardens prior to Rosh Hashanah by planting, tilling, and the like, so that they will not require all sorts of work forbidden during Shemitta. This is especially true this year when the Shemitta year is also a leap year (i.e., the Shemitta year will last for thirteen months), a truly rare occurrence.
A Halacha transmitted by tradition from Moshe Rabbeinu dictates that at the time when the Bet Hamikdash stood, it was forbidden to work the land beginning from thirty days before Rosh Hashanah of the Shemitta year. This is what is referred to as “adding onto the sanctity of Shevi’it” which nowadays applies only for a short moment before Rosh Hashanah.
Nevertheless, even nowadays, our Sages prohibited planting a tree less than forty-four days before Rosh Hashanah of the Shemitta year so that people do not suspect one who has done so of having planted during the actual Shemitta year. (This is because with regards to counting years of the Orla cycle, one who plants during this time appears to have actually planted it during the Shemitta year.)
Thus, those in Israel who wish to plant fruit trees in their gardens during this time should make sure to do so by the end of this week, i.e., by the Fifteenth of Av (which will coincide with this coming Shabbat). The only exception to this rule is regarding a sapling which has a mound of dirt surrounding its roots and this dirt will not crumble to pieces when planting it. Such a tree may be planted until right before the end of the year.
The Poskim disagree regarding whether or not non-fruit trees and other flowers may be planted until close to the end of the year. Some say they may only be planted until about two weeks before the end of the year (the Fifteenth of Elul), while others rule leniently and allow them to be planted until just before the end of the year. It is correct to act stringently in this regard wherever possible.
Any work that can be performed on the land from now, before the onset of the Shemitta year, although it may be possible that some of these works may be performed during the Shemitta year itself, should preferably be done now. It is therefore appropriate to adequately fertilize all one’s plants now in a way that it will last for the entire Shemitta year. The same applies to pruning, exterminating, and any other things necessary for one’s garden so that questions do not arise during the Shemitta year.