Conventional wisdom holds that spring is the time to plant, when the earth is just waking up from winter’s chill and the long, hot days of summer are ahead. After all, that’s when the Garden Centers are filled with flowering shrubs and perennials, as well as brightly colored annuals.
While you can’t deny the joy of planting in spring, there are advantages to planting in fall. Autumn’s cooler temperatures and wetter weather mean a better start for trees, shrubs, bulbs and perennials. Vegetables and herbs grow well in fall, too, especially greens and root vegetables.
Why Planting in Fall is Better:
- When spring comes around, your plants will already be in the ground, with established root systems and ready to grow when the sun hits them.
- The weather is cooler and bugs are fewer. More rain and moderate temperatures equals less watering.
- When you plant in fall, you support pollinators with food and habitat at the beginning and end of the season. Your fall-planted perennials will provide sustenance in late fall and emerge early in spring to support pollinators like birds, bees and butterflies.
What to Plant in Fall:
1. Spring-Flowering Bulbs
Spring bloomers like daffodils, crocus, tulips and hyacinth need chilling time, anywhere from 12 to 16 weeks of temperatures below 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Some bulbs require 6 to 8 weeks at temperatures between 35 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Learn more about planting spring-flowering bulbs.
When planting bulbs, keep in mind that irregular clusters of bulbs are more pleasing to the eye than rows. Use a bulb planter to help plant bulbs to the right depth and add a slow-release fertilizer to the soil. Top with a 2- to 4-inch layer of mulch to protect the bulbs through winter.
2. Perennials for Fall
Fall is the time to get perennials in the ground, so they get the best start for the long growing season next spring. When you plant, amend the soil with plenty of organic compost. In sunny areas, daisies, asters and mums can fill in your flower bed. In shady areas, rely on hostas and heuchera.
Instead of (or in addition to) buying new, fall is the best time to divide perennials and replant. So, split your hostas and expand your garden, or share with a friend. Follow this step-by-step project guide to learn how to divide perennials.
Finish your perennial bed with a blanket of mulch to help retain moisture and protect the plants through winter.
3. Shrubs and Trees
Fall is the best season to get new trees and shrubs in the ground. Both bare root and container-grown trees and shrubs will appreciate warm soil temperatures to establish root systems, even as air temperatures grow colder.
When planting trees and shrubs, dig a wide, shallow hole, rather than a deep hole. Most shrubs and trees grow roots through the top 12 to 18 inches of soil, but those roots will spread horizontally beyond the plant’s canopy. There’s no need to amend the soil in the planting hole. Instead, blanket with mulch and top dress with compost to nourish the plant through winter. Learn the steps to planting trees and shrubs.
Tender greens like chard and spinach, and cole crops like collards, love the cool weather. In fact, frost makes the starches in vegetables turn to sugar, making them sweeter to taste. Read more about veggies that are sweeter after a frost.
The best way to take advantage of fall’s warm days and cool nights is to grow tender greens like spinach and lettuces. Prep a planting bed in a sunny location and sow seeds each week for a continual harvest.
Container gardening is so much easier in fall, when you’re not dealing with constant watering, deadheading and pruning. Moderate temperatures means less stress on the plants, and more time for you to enjoy the plant combinations you create. With the right mix, you can keep a container going from fall to spring.
Ornamental grasses are perfect partners in containers. Consider also pansies, especially Cool Wave varieties that may last from fall through spring. For a stunning seasonal display, try flowering kale or cabbage surrounded by pansies and ‘Bright Lights’ Swiss chard with its brilliant pink, green and yellow stems.