Monday, September 27, 2010

Tis the Season to be planting!

One thing that I have been trying to get some traction with when I talk to clients about gardening is "Fall is the best time to plant. The looks I often get are amazing. You would think I just told them that a Cactus will live in Antarctica. It is true however, Fall is a GREAT time to be gardening!
Mother Nature herself tells us Fall is the time to plant. Many plants flourish all Summer long, then go to seed. The seeds are dispersed at the end of the growing season or in the Fall and get "planted". There are many seeds that need a Winter stratification to produce a new plant next Spring. Stratification is a means of Pre-treating seeds (cold stratification) as a simple measure you can take which will break a seed's dormancy. In simple terms, it needs cold to take a nap and grow next year.
In the Fall, you (theoretically) have more time to get the work done. First of all, there is a longer period of time and far more "good weather days" for planting in the Fall than during the tricky weather of Spring. Late frosts and crazy storms come to mind. Then there is the aspect of trying to clean up after Winter's mess. I don't know about you, but I seem to have much more work to do in the Spring than I do after the Summer battle. Less to clean up, the more time to plant.
The soil is warmer in the Fall than in Spring, and there's still time for roots to get established before the cold weather sets in. Fall officially begins with the Autumn Equinox in late September, but Fall weather varies considerably from one part of the country to the next. Basically, the ideal period for Fall planting is roughly six weeks before the first hard frost. And in northern areas of the country, the ideal planting period might even be late summer. In general, the window of opportunity for most folks is during September and October. Roots can grow in soil as cold as 40 degrees, and soil remains warm long after the air temperature drops. This is even more prevalent in the Northern areas, where the ground actually freezes. Plus, there is less heat stress on the leaves and stems and such, the roots can have all the attention. Just as a side note here, when you do plant a tree or shrub in the Fall, Do not fertilize it. This could spur new foliage growth that will be damaged in the cold of Winter, weakening the plant. Wait until Spring to feed it. There is some argument as to whether you should give it some slow release before it takes a long Winters nap, that way it wakes up with food already to go. I for one figure it is just better to not take a chance.
There are plants that can and should be divided in the Fall. Hostas, Iris, Cone Flowers, and for the folks up North, Tulips, Crocus and such come to mind. Spring flowering bulbs are of course the one thing everybody does think about planting in the Fall. So if you plant them in the Fall, why not divide them then? They need the cold to flower for you next year too. Other bulbs to plant now, Garlic and Onions. Perennials also need dividing to stay fresh and productive, it should be done every three years or so, why wait for Spring?
Here in the South, Lettuce, Collards, Mustard Greens and Cabbage are going into the ground now. You have to have those greens ready for "Hoppin' Johns" on New Years Day.
If all of these reasons are not good enough, how about this one. Go to any big box store or garden center.....they are probably having a great sale on trees, shrubs and perennials.....which reminds me, I need to go shopping!
Happy Growing!


  1. I have been talking about fall planting as long as I have been out of school. It feels like an uphill battle. All the Northerners moving to the south are programed to stop gardening after September. Genetics are difficult to overcome!!!

  2. "Mother Nature herself tells us Fall is the time to plant." I love that. Fall really is the best time, especially for trees. Thanks for another great post.

  3. Excellent and accurate post, Darren. Now if only the garden centers would help out by increasing, instead of decreasing selection of perennials and shrubs during fall. Instead, we get the leftovers of summer, often rootbound and damaged. This is why I end up buying roses mailorder for fall planting!