Fall is for Planting
Get your gloves ready because fall is coming and growers argue it is the best time to plant almost any kind of plant. After a long, hot, humid, and wet summer, the earth is warm and filled with moisture, making it the perfect environment for root growth.
So why is planting in fall arguably superior when spring is synonymous with growth? In early spring, the soil is still cold from winter and your plant is focusing its growth above the ground, rather than below. Warm spring temperatures leading to summer cause the plant to shift its focus from dormancy to branch, leaf, and flower growth.
Alternatively, as the air temperature begins to cool in the fall, plants start to slow growth above ground and shift their focus to below ground where it’s still warm. This is the time for substantial root growth. Additionally, the heat of summer can be stressful to plants, especially during their establishment period. There are a few differences between planting in the spring and fall so take note before you get started.
Ground Rules for Fall Planting
- Don’t forget to water your plants regularly. Late fall and early winter is typically much more dry than spring and summer so you will need to monitor watering carefully well into fall. Make sure your plants get enough water all the way until the first frost.
- Don’t prune your plants too early. If you start pruning before the growth season ends, your plants could flush with fresh growth that might not survive winter. Be careful not to prune certain plants until after their bloom season has ended because you could unintentionally trim off next season’s buds.
- Don’t fertilize outdoor plants in the fall. You don’t want to encourage top growth that can’t harden before the first frost, which makes the plant vulnerable to disease.
- Make sure you plant as soon as the temperatures dip in September or early October, well before the first frost, to give your plants ample time to become established.
- Remember to continue to mulch your plant bed after the first frost to preserve the warmth of the soil for as long as possible.
Benefits of Fall Planting
- Warm soil creates an ideal environment for root establishment and creates a strong foundation for plants, especially trees and shrubs.
- The shock of transplanting is lessened since your plant is preparing for dormancy and shifting its focus from top growth to root growth.
- Weeds are less of a nuisance in the fall allowing plants an opportunity to grow without competing with the extensive root system of weeds.
What to Plant in the Fall
You can plant almost anything in the fall. Many vegetables, perennials, bulbs, trees, and shrubs can thrive in the fall when the air is warm during the day and cool at night. In many regions, the ground does not freeze well into winter, if at all, giving your plants plenty of time to establish roots if planted early enough. Late August and early September are the times to start writing your list and preparing because you want to give your garden the best chance for winter survival.
Fall Vegetables to Plant
Plant these fall vegetables at least 90 days before the first frost: Cabbage, lettuce, snowpeas, collards, carrots, brussels sprouts, spinach, broccoli, radish.
Perennials and Bulbs to Plant in Fall
Plant new winter hardy perennials in the early fall so they have plenty of time to establish their roots before winter. Late fall is the perfect time to dig up and divide your existing perennial plants. Be sure not to divide any plant until it is finished blooming for the season. Bulbs can be planted any time before the ground freezes in winter.
Dianthus are long-blooming perennials that bloom all through summer, fall, and sometimes even winter in the warmer climates. Their tiny, pink fringed petals and blue-green foliage add color and sweet fragrance to your flower bed.
Rudbeckia, Maryland's State Flower, blooms all the way through September in hardiness zone 3-9. This native perennial's beautiful gold blooms and dense foliage are a perfect fit for cottage gardens and its flowers will attract butterflies and hummingbirds.
Russian Sage has grown tremendously in popularity in recent years, prized for its soft lavender blue blooms, fine texture, and silvery green foliage. This long blooming aromatic perennial has medicinal properties and attracts pollinators. Use it to create a rustic Tuscan garden and to give your landscape that Mediterranean feel.
Trees and Shrubs with Fall and Winter Interest
Burning Bush Euonymus is a seasonal accent hedge with fiery red fall foliage. This low maintenance deciduous shrub adds a pop of color to any landscape.
When you think of hydrangeas, most people picture plentiful, full bloom clusters covering dense green foliage. But Hydrangea quercifolia 'Ruby Slippers' has incredible fall foliage that rivals the beauty of its summer blooms. The dried flowers and enormous fiery orange-red oakleaf shaped leaves will make your home look and feel like a New England woodland garden in autumn.
We love Red Twig Dogwood for its winter interest. After it sheds its leaves, the bare, coral red branches stand out and make an excellent addition to winter bouquets.
Ilex verticillata 'Red Sprite' is another dwarf shrub best known for its bright red berries that provide food for overwintering birds.
Intense purple foliage that resembles a Japanese maple make this a dramatic accent plant and will add color and interest to any landscape.