Fall is upon us and, naturally, thoughts turn to shutting down the garden for winter and planning next year’s plantings. Thing is, as savvy gardeners know, autumn can be a wonderful time to plant perennials, shrubs, and trees. Why?
1. Cooler temps = reduced water needs.
Cooler temps this season reduce the stress on plants (and the humans digging the holes!). In the spring and summer, the plant is actively growing and its water demand is high. However, in the fall, the plant is getting ready for dormancy, so its need for water is a fraction of that in the summer.
2. The new plant can focus solely on root growth.
When you plant in the spring, the plant’s energy is divided between supporting top growth and repairing and growing new roots. When you plant in the fall, all the plant’s energy is sent to the roots, and you may end up with a healthier and more robust plant that blooms fuller and earlier than its spring planted counterpart. (Plants will continue to grow roots up until the ground freezes.) You’re essentially giving the new plant a head start for next year.
3. Fall means fewer pests munching on plants.
As the weather gets colder, insects turn their focus from feeding on plants to looking for a place to overwinter and to diapause. Diapause is complete physiological dormancy, where the insect “pauses” its metabolism for the winter, as opposed to hibernation, when metabolism merely slows down.
4. And fewer diseases, too.
Most fungi and bacteria require a more moderate temperature range to be active. With temperatures trending lower and fewer available leaves to infect, there’s less chance of new plants getting infected.
Tips for Planting in the Fall
- The right plant for the right place. This is important because it gives you the best chance for survival—check your zone, your soil type, and climate. While this also applies in the spring and summer, you’ll need to pay special attention in the fall, as once the leaves drop for deciduous plants, you will lose one of the clearest signs that something may be wrong with your plant.
- Water weekly. Don’t let the soil dry out. The roots need access to water. Watering can stop once the ground freezes.
- Plant at the correct height. Match the ground soil level to the soil level in the pot. Don’t plant too high or too low.
- Mulch around the base of the plant. This will help lock in the moisture and keep the soil warmer longer. Remember: no mulch volcanoes and no mulch up against the trunk or stems. Mulch up against the bark can cause it to rot, and in the winter, it can provide shelter to mice that can nibble on the bark for food.
- Mark where you’ve planted. If you’re planting herbaceous plants, do yourself a favor and mark the location with a flag or some sort of marker. This will save you from thinking the space is empty and planting a new plant on top of the fall planting come spring. (If you must know, yes, I’ve done this before.)
- Fall Gardening: Can You Stop Watering Now? (And 5 Other Burning Questions)
- Secrets of an English Head Gardener: How to Transplant Shrubs and Perennials
- Gardening 101: How to Propagate Your Annuals this Fall for Next Summer